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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers 1 Overview According to the U.S. Congress, building a larger and more diverse workforce educated in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is a critical national imperative for the twenty-first century (DOD, 2001). Increasing the number of engineers will first require increasing the number of engineering students, and one way to do that is to tap into the pool of students pursuing engineering science studies at community colleges, who could then transfer to four-year institutions, where they could pursue baccalaureate or advanced degrees. Community colleges are an especially attractive source of prospective engineering students for several reasons: (1) millions of students attend them, and enrollments are projected to increase (DOED, 2004); (2) many women and students from underrepresented minorities attend community colleges; and most important, (3) many community college students in engineering do not transfer to four-year engineering programs. Nevertheless, community college transfer students who have completed an associate of science (A.S.) degree in engineering science are just as likely to receive a bachelor’s degree as students who attend four-year campuses only. Therefore, it makes sense for educators, legislators, industry, and other stakeholders to pay more attention to the potential talent pool available at community colleges (Adelman, 1998). Community colleges are already essential to the education of engineers in the United States. A U.S. Department of Education study reported that 20.1 percent of engineering degree holders began their academic careers with at least 10 credits from community colleges (Adelman, 1998), and 40 percent of engineering bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients in
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers 1999 and 2000 attended community colleges (Tsapogas, 2004). In some regions of the country, the numbers are even larger. The California Council on Science and Technology reported that 48 percent of graduates with science or engineering degrees from the California system began at community colleges and then transferred (CCST, 2002). However, among the various functions of community colleges, the transfer function has yet to reach its full potential, for many reasons (Ulseth and Wenger, 2002): a lack of understanding on the part of parents, teachers, counselors, and students of the importance of community colleges in engineering education disagreement over curricular content and quality ineffective articulation agreements a lack of cooperation between high schools, community colleges, four-year institutions, and state higher education agencies inadequate attention to the transfer of women and underrepresented minority students insufficient statistics on student transfers, experiences, and outcomes CHARGE TO THE COMMITTEE The study committee was charged with describing the evolving role of community colleges in engineering education, identifying exemplary programs at community colleges and model partnerships between two-year and four-year institutions, and recommending critical research questions that require further study. The study committee was overseen by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Committee on Diversity in the Engineering Workforce and Committee on Engineering Education and the National Research Council (NRC) Board on Higher Education and Workforce. METHODOLOGY The NAE president and NRC chair appointed an ad hoc committee to carry out this study during 2004. Most of the committee’s time and effort involved carrying out fact-finding activities and analyzing the collected information. The main fact-finding activity was a one and one-half day workshop described below. The members of the study committee, who were chosen for their expertise and experience, provided the insight and analysis for this report, which is intended to initiate a national dialogue on enhancing the role of community colleges in undergraduate engineering education. Committee
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers members included: community-college and four-year engineering educators; experts on administrative processes and articulation agreements between community colleges and four-year campuses; higher education program evaluators; and researchers who have studied the demographics of community college students and the impact of community colleges on the development of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce. Biographies of committee members can be found in Appendix A. During the fact-finding stage of this study, the committee gathered evidence to address its charge through the following activities: two committee meetings with presentations by outside experts, reviews of background research, and guided discussions and deliberations a one and one-half day workshop, which brought together two-and four-year college administrators and faculty members from notable programs the collection and analysis of data on community college involvement by recent engineering graduates The study committee met on three occasions during 2004—a teleconference planning meeting on March 8, a full committee meeting in Washington, D.C., on April 1 (see agenda in Appendix B), and a full committee meeting on July 8 and 9 (see agenda in Appendix C). The meeting in March included expert testimony from stakeholders and planning for the workshop. Outside experts discussed national and state perspectives on the community college transfer mission; curricular reform and diversity issues; community college/four-year engineering program partnerships; and the need for a national certification of competencies necessary for student success in four-year programs. The third committee meeting was focused on preparing the report. The workshop was held on July 7 and 8 in Washington, D.C., to showcase programs that have demonstrated their ability to produce successful engineering graduates with community college experience. Keynote speakers and experts, who participated in four panel discussions, described their experiences as faculty members or administrators of community colleges or four-year educational institutions and in state organizations that develop and evaluate educational initiatives. Workshop participants were asked to draw on their own experiences to suggest questions relating to the transfer mission that would require additional research. The agenda for the workshop is in Appendix D. In the notable programs profiled during the workshop, proactive planning has resulted in successful partnerships between community col-
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers lege and four-year engineering programs. These partnerships were focused on the following factors related to articulation and transfer: the success of students who transfer between community colleges and four-year engineering programs mutually beneficial interaction between faculties of community colleges and four-year engineering programs the curricular content of community college engineering programs data-collection requirements for effective program evaluation effective use of community college campuses to achieve student and faculty diversity goals a quality-assurance standard Comments by the presenters and the general discussion at the workshop are reflected in the research questions presented in subsequent chapters. Workshop on Key Issues and Exemplary Practices in Community College Engineering Science Programs and Transfer Because it was not possible to survey the universe of community colleges to select programs to profile at the workshop, educational institutions involved in transfer partnerships were pre-selected and asked to submit proposals for participation in the workshop. The pre-selected programs were chosen from the following sources: committee members’ personal knowledge of programs at two- and four-year colleges and universities; public presentations by institutional representatives at the 2002 National Science Foundation (NSF)-sponsored conference—A New Direction in Engineering Education: Creating a National Collaboration—and other events; institutions that were represented on the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) two-year college division listserv; and institutions represented by members of the League Alliance of the League for Innovation in the Community. Responses were received from faculty and/or administrators from community colleges and four-year educational institutions representing 24 transfer partnerships (in some cases more than two institutions were involved in a partnership). Follow-up communications included requests for additional program information and outcome date, where available. As noted elsewhere in this report, most two-year institutions do not have the resources to compile and analyze data on the effectiveness of their preparation of engineering science students for transfer to four-year engineering programs. Therefore, the initiatives profiled in this report were selected largely on the basis of qualitative data provided in written
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers proposals and workshop presentations, as well as the personal and professional experiences and judgments of committee members. In addition, because the committee was aware that there is no “one size fits all” approach to articulation and transfer, a variety of options was included for both two-year and four-year educational institutions to enhance community college pathways and improve their preparation of students for careers in engineering. Faculty members and administrators from 17 four-year educational institutions and 18 two-year educational institutions attended the workshop held on July 7 and 8, 2004. Attendees were from 23 states and the District of Columbia and represented all geographic regions of the United States. A list of workshop participants is provided in Appendix D. These institutions varied in terms of the racial/ethnic and gender composition of their student bodies and the variety of approaches to their transfer mission. For example, the amount of support provided to transfer students,(academic, financial, counseling before and after transfer) and assistance in job placement on completion of the degree, varied considerably among four-year institutions. Although all of the institutions represented at the workshop had formal articulation agreements with two-year or four-year institutional partners, there were as many weaknesses as strengths reported in both institutional and statewide agreements. In keeping with information in the literature on transfer students, a majority of representatives of four-year institutions reported that transfer students were “as well prepared” or “better prepared” than four-year-only students and that the retention rate for transfer students was “the same” or “higher” than for four-year-only students. CONCLUSION The community college transfer function is critical to meeting the national need for a robust, diverse engineering workforce. In fact, community college transfer may be the primary mechanism for increasing the number of students pursuing engineering degrees, particularly underrepresented minority students. Although there are many innovative and effective partnerships between community colleges and four-year institutions, they must not only be enhanced, but also taken to scale to meet a national need. This study is a survey of the important questions that must be addressed in future research to promote significant improvements in the community college transfer mission. The following chapters focus on five major areas that could be improved:
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers Articulation agreements to facilitate seamless transfers of students to four-year institutions. Recruitment and retention of engineering students by leveraging the special position of community colleges as “colleges within communities.” Curricular content, quality, and standards. Diversity. Data collection. In each chapter the committee describes the topic, identifies key challenges to improvement, describes notable programs developed by two-year and four-year institutions, and provides conclusions and recommendations for future research. Four overarching themes are highlighted: Shifting program assessments from inputs to learning outcomes. The importance of collaboration. Diversity. Raising awareness of the community college transfer mission. In the past several years, a number of studies have been published and conferences held to address barriers to improving the transfer function of community colleges. The American Association of Community Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, for example, surveyed their institutions and identified the following barriers (AACC and AASCU, 2004):1 the reluctance of four-year institutions to accept credits from associate in applied science (AAS) degree programs the lack of child care at four-year institutions unavailability of courses at times convenient to transfer and nontraditional students the lack of financial aid packages structured specifically for adult and independent students admission requirements in programs at four-year institutions that exceed general education requirements for those institutions 1 This report provides detailed discussions of a variety of barriers to access by community college students to baccalaureate degrees.
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers For community college students, especially for nontraditional students, the institutional capacity, faculty attitudes, lack of advisors and student support, and statewide and system-wide policy barriers can all be roadblocks to successful transfer to four-year engineering programs. This report affirms the existence of these challenges, highlights innovative and interesting solutions tried by community colleges and four-year institutions to overcome them, and notes that many important research questions have not been answered.
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