have seen a big increase in the number of students pursuing that path to the baccalaureate,” he commented.
Catherine Didion from the National Academy of Engineering and a co-principal investigator for the project emphasized the value of many two-year degrees in areas such as information technology and biotechnology. In promoting transfer policies, two-year pathways also need to be more transparent to students. Linnea Fletcher from Austin Community College agreed with this observation, pointing out that not every STEM occupation requires a four-year degree. High school counselors and institutions need more information about what is actually needed for particular jobs so that students have a more realistic idea of how much education is needed for those positions. Also, many STEM jobs are now and will continue to be in currently unanticipated fields, such as hightechnology welding or fashion design. “This type of information is not being disseminated,” said Fletcher.
Martin Storksdieck from the National Research Council and a coprincipal investigator for this project pointed out that community colleges are not just educating future STEM professionals. They also are contributing substantially to the future scientific literacy of the general public, including K-12 teachers. The STEM courses that people take in community colleges are often their last formal courses in those subjects. “What does that mean for the way in which we want to structure them?” asked Storksdieck. He also observed that community colleges may need to examine their curricula and instruction as more students who enter these institutions take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses while in high school.
Geri Anderson from the Colorado Community College system raised the issue of the metric used to evaluate workforce training programs by the U.S. Department of Labor. Today the department is focused on getting people quickly into the workforce using high-demand certificates and degrees. She suggested that the Labor and Education Departments should engage in a dialogue about the value of education with longer term goals and the use of a different metric of success.
Articulation remains a problem for many institutions, responded Assistant Secretary Oates. Students should be able to transfer credits from two-year colleges to four-year colleges and have those credits count toward their major. This problem can be particularly acute in mathematics. In New Jersey, where she had worked previously, the rigor of calculus was not the same at community colleges as at four-year institutions. Faculty-to-faculty conversations are needed to harmonize the courses at the two types of institutions, she said. In New Jersey, those conversations not only educated community college faculty about what was needed but also helped open the eyes of four-year faculty about the talent at the community college level.