In response to a question from George Boggs about existing partnerships among two-year and four-year institutions, Dowd mentioned a conversation with a mathematics department chair at a comprehensive college who said that her institutionâ€™s relationship with a nearby community college had deteriorated because they had lost funding for lunches that used to bring the two sets of faculty together. When a new grant enabled them to have lunch together again the relationship—and the transfer of students—improved. “It is good to have lunch,” she said. “The realities of the structural alignment are going to be realized through human relationships.”
Susan Elrod from Project Kaleidoscope at the Association of American Colleges and Universities pointed to the difficulty of forging robust partnerships among two-year and four-year institutions. Even with funding from the Gates Foundation to create such partnerships, it was difficult to figure out which people to bring together. “Getting the right people from the right institutions together in a room consistently to make sure that the messages are consistent, and to make sure that students feel no shift in culture, is really important,” she observed.
Steve Slater from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison pointed out that many universities do not view bringing in students from community colleges and helping them succeed as a high priority, which means that it is particularly hard to get junior, pre-tenured faculty involved in such efforts.
Tom Bailey from Teachers College, Columbia University, said that community colleges need coherent programs that span institutions if students are going to be able to transfer successfully. More than alignment is needed—the programs need to be coherent across institutions. Many students enter community colleges without much direction. They go into general studies programs, taking courses here and there. Some manage to earn a degree, though it may not be very coherent. As Bailey said, “We need to ask, what is it that we are doing to help students, [especially] if we have a particular interest in STEM?”
Bailey also observed that students who are already interested in STEM fields are the low-hanging fruit. Community colleges need to serve the needs of these students, but they also need to examine ways of getting more students engaged in STEM subjects.
Judy Miner from Foothill College observed that community colleges are critical components of the P-20 education continuum. They are uniquely positioned, have multiple missions, and feature open access for students. “The broad diversity of both our students and our institutions is not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to be seized, thereby empowering the most vulnerable of populations and in turn uplifting us all,” said Miner.