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Report Summary

The community college pathway to engineering careers can be enhanced by improving the enabling mechanisms related to articula tion and transfer. Statewide and institution-to-institution articulation agreements must be more transparent to students and their parents, and they must be more encompassing to address the many exigencies community college students experience. Articulation agreements should reflect the differences in resources available to two- and four-year educational institutions and provide flexibility for students and transfer partners, such as resistance to shocks (e.g., changes in course numbering and content). These enhancements will only be made when communication and collaboration improves between two- and four-year educational institutions; four-year colleges and universities are in the best position to initiate more interactive relationships with their community college partners.

The retention rate and persistence to the B.S. degree of transfer students is likely to improve only when two- and four-year institutions have established partnerships that are driven by mutual interest and investment, as opposed to the personal interest and commitment of individual faculty members or administrators. For this to happen, two- and four-year educational institutions will need to see themselves as stakeholders in students’ outcomes such as recruitment, retention, and persistence to the B.S. degree.

A more comprehensive discussion in the engineering community on the question of standardization versus flexibility in the A.S. and four-year lower-division curricula and on measuring student learning outcomes



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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers 7 Report Summary The community college pathway to engineering careers can be enhanced by improving the enabling mechanisms related to articula tion and transfer. Statewide and institution-to-institution articulation agreements must be more transparent to students and their parents, and they must be more encompassing to address the many exigencies community college students experience. Articulation agreements should reflect the differences in resources available to two- and four-year educational institutions and provide flexibility for students and transfer partners, such as resistance to shocks (e.g., changes in course numbering and content). These enhancements will only be made when communication and collaboration improves between two- and four-year educational institutions; four-year colleges and universities are in the best position to initiate more interactive relationships with their community college partners. The retention rate and persistence to the B.S. degree of transfer students is likely to improve only when two- and four-year institutions have established partnerships that are driven by mutual interest and investment, as opposed to the personal interest and commitment of individual faculty members or administrators. For this to happen, two- and four-year educational institutions will need to see themselves as stakeholders in students’ outcomes such as recruitment, retention, and persistence to the B.S. degree. A more comprehensive discussion in the engineering community on the question of standardization versus flexibility in the A.S. and four-year lower-division curricula and on measuring student learning outcomes

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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers would be beneficial. If these issues can be resolved, students are likely to have a higher comfort level about their chances of transferring successfully and more confidence in quality assurances. The general public, as well as many community college students and their parents, are not aware of the community college transfer mission. Students who do not realize they can obtain a four-year engineering degree through the community college pathway tend to set their sights too low. In addition, a lack of understanding of what engineers do, or worse, a negative image of engineers and the engineering profession, also contribute to students’ decisions to end their secondary education with a certificate or A.S. degree or to elect another major if they plan to transfer to a four-year institution. Engineering professional societies and other key stakeholders must work together to generate positive, compelling messages about the opportunities for engineers to improve the quality of life and sustainability, domestically and globally. To increase public awareness of the community college mission, state and national policy makers must address the issue of community college capacity. In California, for example, students were reported being turned away from community colleges due to lack of capacity. Increasing capacity will require increased funding for community colleges, as well as for community college and transfer students. Accessible, reliable data about student and institutional outcomes would make it possible to prioritize and address many of the problems outlined in this report. Currently, however, not enough data are available on community college student educational pathways, and institutions represented at the workshop reported that they do not have the funds to collect and analyze data on students. As community colleges become more important in higher education in the United States, data will be necessary to evaluate both student and institutional outcomes and to answer the questions raised in this report and elsewhere about the relationship between articulation agreements and recruitment, retention, and persistence to the B.S. degree of community college transfer students. The majority of workshop participants reported that community college transfer students perform as well academically and have comparable retention rates to those of students who began as freshmen in four-year engineering programs. However, there is little systematic data to support this claim. Many workshop participants from four-year programs noted that community college students’ performance often falters temporarily following transfer, but improves as students regain their confidence and become acclimated to their new environments. Information on the effectiveness of programs/approaches to reducing the culture shock would be helpful.

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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers Fortunately, many institutions are already working to create or strengthen some of the enabling mechanisms noted above. Greater publicity of their efforts and more research into approaches that smooth the transfer experience for community college students would be beneficial. ISSUES FOR FURTHER RESEARCH During the committee’s information-gathering activities for this report, a number of unresolved issues came to light that could be addressed through further research identification of ways to improve the clarity, transparency, and accessibility to documentation in two-year/four-year institutional partnerships identification of ways of institutionalizing transfer partnerships and improving communication between transfer partners identification of competencies/learning outcomes (rather than course lists or credits)—for community college students and other students—required for upper-division engineering courses the success rate of transfers before and after completion of the A.S. degree documentation of performance outcomes related to recruitment, transfer, retention, and persistence to degrees in undergraduate engineering education determination of who should collect data relevant to transfers the impact of financial aid on enrollment, retention, and completion in community college engineering science programs assessment of different approaches to K–12 outreach programs the best ways to publicize the transfer mission of community colleges assessment of curricular content and pedagogy in mathematics synchronization of engineering science coursework and lower-division coursework in four-year B.S. programs to facilitate smoother transfers assessments of distance learning, especially for community college students, including a detailed survey of engineering courses available on line, data on quality (e.g., student outcomes), and comparative costs of distance education and traditional classroom teaching costs and benefits of recruiting industry experts to teach at community colleges the feasibility and desirability of standardized accreditation of community college programs

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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers data on the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students and women in science and engineering programs in two-year and four-year institutions success rate of women and underrepresented minority students who transfer from two-year to four-year programs RESEARCH QUESTIONS A surprising number of engineering graduates begin their studies in community colleges. However, large numbers do not necessarily translate into effectiveness. Based on expert testimony and workshop discussions, several broad, overarching questions on this topic arose: What is the attrition rate of students who begin their engineering studies at community colleges (including those who fail to transfer and those who fail to receive a baccalaureate degree)? How many community college graduates later attend four-year degree granting educational institutions? How many are admitted to Research I Institutions? How many obtain graduate degrees? What career paths do students with A.S. degrees follow? Do engineering students who begin at community colleges perform as well, better than, or not as well as other students? What factors influence their success rate? Transfers Different types of transfer partnerships have been developed for different reasons and from different starting points. Additional research would be helpful to identify the underlying characteristics of successful partnerships. The committee identified the following critical areas for further research: Do engineering students who begin at community colleges perform as well, better than, or not as well as other students? What factors influence their success rate? Minimum GPA requirements for transfer students vary among four-year institutions. Are community college transfer students held to a higher standard than students who begin in four-year engineering programs? What is an appropriate minimum GPA for transfer students?

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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers Recruitment and Retention To what extent are stakeholders (e.g., the public, industry) aware that an engineering degree can be pursued starting at the community college level? Are there regional variations in awareness and, if so, what strategies are effective in raising public awareness? How can community colleges and four-year institutions attract more high school students to engineering? What factors in the culture, student services, and learning environments of community colleges correlate with the successful completion of coursework and transfer to four-year engineering programs? What factors in the culture, student services, and learning environment of four-year engineering programs correlate with the retention of transfer students through completion of the B.S. degree? What can community colleges and four-year engineering programs learn from bridge programs? Can exemplary bridge programs be scaled up to improve recruitment and retention outcomes for both two-and four-year institutions? What is the impact of financial aid on recruitment, retention, and transfer of community college students and on their retention to the B.S. and more advanced degrees? Curricular Content, Quality, and Standards What competencies should students have after two years in engineering science programs? Should there be a common lower division curriculum, or should the curriculum be tailored to specific fields of engineering? How can mathematics teaching be focused on engineering applications? How can community colleges enlist industry engineers to share their skills and knowledge? Can distance learning fill gaps in engineering science coursework at two-year programs? What evidence is there that community college engineering science students learn effectively via online courses? What impact would replacing in-person courses with online courses have on the engineering science infrastructure at community colleges? Would online courses result in a decline in engineering science faculty? If so, how would this affect K–12 outreach activities, academic advisement, student clubs, and mentoring programs?

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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers Diversity Why is diversity among students and faculty important? Is it necessary that students have same-race and same-gender role models? What features of the academic environment are associated with recruitment and retention of women and minorities to engineering science and engineering programs? Data Collection What data would be useful for improving engineering pathways (e.g., data disaggregated by race/ethnicity or gender on transfer and completion rates)? Who should collect important data? How should data collection, especially by community colleges, be funded? Although this study examines partnerships between community colleges and four-year engineering programs, the primary focus is on the needs of community colleges and their students related to articulation agreements and transfer processes. Further research is needed to better understand the perspectives of four-year educational institutions. Another direction for further research would be an in-depth examination of the experiences of a cohort of students entering and progressing through the community college pathway to an engineering career, using both quantitative and qualitative data collection methods.

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