Community colleges are more affordable as well as more accessible than four-year institutions. Average tuition and fees at a community college are about $3,000 per year, compared with an average of $8,200 per year for in-state four-year institutions, $21,000 per year for out-of-state students at state institutions, and $29,000 per year at private institutions (College Board, 2011). Indeed, it is this large difference between the cost of attending community colleges versus even the least expensive four-year institutions, especially during difficult economic times, that serves as an impetus for many more students to begin their college careers at two-year institutions.

Community colleges also focus on teaching in an era when teaching in higher education is receiving particular scrutiny and calls for accountability. And community colleges are becoming an increasing focus of educational researchers as their contributions to education—and to STEM education in particular—are more widely recognized.


Given the increasing importance of community colleges in the U.S. STEM education system, the National Research Council of the National Academies and the Carnegie Academy for Science Education of the Carnegie Institution for Science hosted the Summit on Community Colleges in the Evolving STEM Education Landscape on December 15, 2011.2 The event was hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The importance of community colleges, especially in emerging areas of STEM and preparation of the STEM workforce, has been recognized for at least 20 years, e.g., through the establishment of the Advanced Technological Education Program at the National Science Foundation. However, given the attention that both community colleges and STEM education have received in recent years, combined with new ways of viewing the roles of community colleges in the nation’s education system (e.g., dual enrollment for high school students, bi-directional pathways between community colleges and four-year institutions, and pre-service education for teachers), a thorough re-examination of the status, promise, and opportunities of community colleges and their contributions to STEM education is long overdue. Community college will be essential to accommodate growing numbers of students, especially given the Obama


2Planning for this summit was a collaborative effort of the Board on Higher Education and Workforce, the Board on Life Sciences, the Board on Science Education, and the Teacher Advisory Council of the National Research Council, and the Engineering Education Program Office of the National Academy of Engineering.

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