Picture a first-generation new community college student named Josie, said Becky Wai-Ling Packard, professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke College, in her presentation at the summit Community Colleges in the Evolving STEM Education Landscape. Josie became interested in environmental issues in high school when she became aware of the extent to which they affected her community, so she decided to go to college to learn more about environmental policy.
First she had to fill out financial aid paperwork, but much of it was hard to decipher. She had to figure out which courses to take, but she was not sure about the difference between a one-year certificate and an associateâ€™s degree, and her parents were not able to help her. She had questions about how much time the degree was going to take her. Given her familyâ€™s financial status, she could not afford any missteps.
Imagine, several years in the future, that Josie is one of the few firstgeneration college students and students of color who has earned an associateâ€™s degree in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field and has transferred to a four-year university. At her new school, she felt lost once again. No advisor met with her. She did all of her scheduling online. Peer study groups had already formed. The hours of the academic resource center conflicted with her job. Faculty assumed that she was incompetent when her experiences did not align with their expectations. Summer research sounded like a critical experience, but it required 40 hours a week, and she had to work at a conventional job to
earn money for school. Furthermore, as a transfer student, she did not know any professors well enough to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Many thousands of students are like Josie, said Packard—indeed, they are the most typical students in higher education today. The skills of the future workforce will depend to a critical degree on how well community colleges meet the needs of these students.
THE ROLE OF COMMUNITY COLLEGES1
Community colleges are an often overlooked but essential component in the U.S. STEM education system. About 1,200 community colleges in the United States enroll more than 8 million students annually, including 43 percent of U.S. undergraduates (American Association of Community Colleges, 2011; Mullin and Phillippe, 2011). Community colleges provide not only general education but also many of the essential technical skills on which economic development and innovation are based. Almost onehalf of the Americans who receive bachelorâ€™s degrees in science and engineering attended community college at some point during their education, and almost one-third of recipients of science or engineering masterâ€™s degree did so (Tsapogas, 2004). About 40 percent of the nationâ€™s teachers, including teachers of science and mathematics, completed some of their mathematics or science courses at community colleges (Shkodriani, 2004). Community colleges provide professional development programs for teachers, offer alternative teacher certification programs for people who have a degree in another field, and in some states award baccalaureate degrees in teacher education and other disciplines.
Community colleges provide the most diverse student body in the history of the United States with access to higher education. Community colleges serve people of color, women, older students, veterans, international students, first-generation college goers, and working parents. In particular, minorities who are underrepresented in STEM fields are disproportionately enrolled in community colleges. Fifty-two percent of Hispanic students, 44 percent of African American students, 55 percent of Native American students, and 45 percent of Asian-Pacific Islander students attend community colleges (American Association of Community Colleges, 2011).
1The remainder of this chapter is based on the introductory remarks made at the summit by George Boggs, president emeritus, American Association of Community Colleges; Barbara Olds, acting deputy director, Directorate for Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation; Jane Oates, assistant secretary, Employment Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor; and Toby Horn, co-director, Carnegie Academy for Science Education.
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.
RATIONALE FOR THE SUMMIT
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 nationâ€™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.
Administrationâ€™s goals of increasing the number of college graduates by 5 million over 10 years, 3 million of whom would be educated by community colleges. Many have ongoing relationships with local community organizations, governments, and businesses that allow them to respond quickly to community needs. Community colleges retrain displaced workers in skills needed by local businesses and open gateways to individuals who would otherwise lack the preparation or financial resources to receive a college education. They prepare students for STEM occupations that require a certificate or associateâ€™s degree as well as for transfer to four-year institutions. They serve as models of excellence for STEM education in an increasingly global economy and in educating a highly prepared technical workforce.
To organize the summit, a planning committee was appointed by the chair of the National Research Council and charged with a Statement of Task (see Box 1-1).
The planning committee for the summit decided to focus the event on three critical areas:
1. Outreach and partnerships between community colleges and fouryear institutions
2. Subjects that can serve as gateways or barriers to college completion, with college-level mathematics as an exemplar
3. Transfer issues for students from two-year to four-year colleges and universities
ORGANIZATION OF THIS REPORT
This report has been prepared by the workshop rapporteur as a factual summary of what occurred during the summit. Because the event was limited to one day, many topics that might have been discussed in the context of the summitâ€™s goals and objectives had to be omitted. However, the summit did raise a number of important additional questions (see reports of general discussions as well as comments from breakout sessions) that deserve additional attention in future convenings and as part of a future research agenda. In addition, the three commissioned papers that are provided in Appendixes B-D provide additional research evidence as well as questions and suggestions from the authors of those papers about a series of related questions and issues.
The planning committeeâ€™s role was limited to planning and convening the workshop. The views contained in the report are those of individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all workshop participants, the planning committee, or the National Research Council/Institute of Medicine.
Committee Statement of Task
An ad hoc committee will plan and conduct a summit that will feature invited presentations and discussions on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in two-year higher education institutions and how the changing dynamics between two-year and four-year institutions of higher education might offer new educational opportunities for students, institutions, and the nationâ€™s workforce. The summit will include leaders from community colleges, fouryear postsecondary institutions, business and industry, and state and federal policymakers, and researchers with expertise in community colleges, student learning, and teaching. The summit will allow these stakeholders to engage in discussions of critical issues in two-year and four-year STEM education. Experts will be commissioned to summarize the evidence available in several commissioned papers, which will be available prior to the planning meeting and summit. The presentations and discussions from the summit will be synthesized in an individually authored workshop summary.
The project will commence with a planning meeting in spring of 2011 to plan the summit and to discuss how program units of the National Academies, both individually and collectively, can best contribute to federal initiatives on community colleges in the future.
This activity will be conducted as a collaboration among 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.
Because many of the issues were discussed throughout the one-day summit, this summary provides a narrative rather than a chronological overview of the presentations and the rich discussions that permeated the event.
After this introductory chapter, Chapter 2 examines ways to expand the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields, while Chapter 3 describes a study of why students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field switch to other majors.
As noted above, three commissioned papers were produced before the summit and posted on the summitâ€™s website prior to it.3 The main points drawn from these papers and the discussions they provoked are discussed in Chapter 4 through 6 of this report, respectively.
Many organizations have become interested in the role of community colleges in the U.S. education system, including the Business Higher Education Forum, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Lumina Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the College Board, all of which sent representatives to the summit. In addition, numerous federal agencies, and divisions within federal agencies, are supporting initiatives in community colleges. For example, the Advanced Technology Education Program at NSF has made a strong and long-standing contribution to community colleges. Other programs at NSF, both in the Education and Human Resources directorate and in other directorates, also fund community college work, facilitate transitions for students among educational institutions, and support research involving community colleges.
At the summit, Jane Oates, assistant secretary of the Employment Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor, described the departmentâ€™s interest in community colleges. The Department of Labor has a particular concern with students who did not make it through high school and with adults who need to go back to school because they have lost employment. Many people who walk onto a community college campus would not feel comfortable going to a four-year public or private college, said Oates. They may be people who have worked in a single industry like the auto industry or general manufacturing for many years, no longer have a job, and are eligible for training. “The people I work with every day need a job as soon as possible, and they need a job where they can continue their education on a career pathway,” said Oates.
Before 2009, the Department of Labor did not insist that the training it funded lead to an industry-recognized credential or a pathway to a degree. The department also limited community collegesâ€™ use of federal funds for equipment, though equipment is essential in many educational fields. Finally, the department did not require rigorous evaluations.
Beginning in 2009, the department has been addressing those weaknesses, said Oates. Under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Ca-
BUILDING ON THE INTEREST IN COMMUNITY COLLEGES
A meeting planned for 60 to 75 participants quickly grew to more than 100. In addition, more than 150 people registered to watch a webcast
reer Training Grant Program,a it has begun awarding what will be a total of $4 billion over two years to help prepare students for successful careers in growing and emerging industries. It also began rigorous evaluation of grants and formula funds. In the first round of capacity-building grants, consortia of institutions received about 60 percent of the $500 million distributed in 2011. These consortia mostly formed around needs of particular sectors such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare, and engineering. They not only developed new curricula based on the needs of employers but looked at new methods of delivering educational content, such as online learning. Community colleges have not been in the forefront of online educational innovations, said Oates, but they are the point of entry for many people who could benefit from such learning.
The Department of Labor has been supporting the development of other electronic tools. A web-based tool called My Skills My Future,b which received more than 2.5 million hits over 14 months, allows people to see jobs that are currently available. Similarly, a tool called My Next Movec allows dislocated workers to search by zip code for jobs that they have held before in their local area or to match jobs with additional skills that they have. My Next Move for Veteransd allows exmilitary personnel to crosswalk their military job codes with civilian job titles. All of these sites draw heavily on the Labor Departmentâ€™s partnerships with community colleges to find matches with education and with jobs.
Finally, the Workforce Innovation Fund,ein partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, is highlighting the innovations and partnerships between the workforce and community colleges. “The time is right for us to talk about the rigor and the wonder and the innovation that are going on in community colleges,” said Oates. “We have for too long seen them as a stepchild, and they can do amazing things.”
of the meeting.4 Attendees included representatives of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, NSF, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Labor, state education agencies, private foundations, businesses, higher education organizations, faculty and administrators from two-year and four-year colleges and universities, several students from local community colleges, and K-12 teachers. It was a diverse, energetic, and enthusiastic group.
Responses to a Pre-Summit Survey: Challenges in STEM Education and Careers
As part of the registration process to attend the National Academiesâ€™ Summit on Community Colleges in an Evolving STEM Education Landscape, invited participants were asked two questions:
1. What is the greatest challenge or issue you are facing in your work on twoyear or four-year STEM education and careers?
2. What is the one big idea or insight you have about increasing the potential of community colleges in STEM education and careers that you will bring to the summit?
Participantsâ€™ big ideas and insights are summarized in Chapter 7. The challenges or issues they listed most frequently are the following:
1. Overcoming studentsâ€™ inadequate academic preparation for STEM study. Students interested in pursuing a STEM career often begin their two-year or four-year study with too little preparation in mathematics, reasoning, and critical thinking to succeed. Extra coursework is required for remediation, which lengthens the time for earning a degree and slows academic progress. As a result, students become discouraged from pursuing a STEM career and either change the focus of their studies or fail to complete their degree.
2. Recruiting and retaining students in STEM education. Outreach, inspiring students to pursue a STEM career, and then helping them overcome barriers along the way, all pose significant challenges. This is especially true for women and minorities.
The National Academies have served as an interactive forum for people who should be talking with each other but do not often have opportunities to do so. In this regard, the summit was a great success. Participants listened to each other, reflected on new ideas and insights, learned about pressing issues, and thought about how those issues affect their own domains. As George Boggs, former president of the American Association of Community Colleges, a member of the NRCâ€™s Board on Science Education, and the chair of the summit organizing committee, said in his concluding remarks, “This summit is the start of something that will be beneficial for all of our institutions, for our students, and for the country.”
3. Creating and sustaining effective partnerships between two-year and four-year institutions. Although individual two-year and four-year institutions in some regions and states have forged effective STEM education partnerships, these partnerships could be much more widely implemented and reflected in state and local policies. In particular, four-year institutions need to have a greater appreciation for the kinds of modern approaches and subject matter in STEM education that are offered at two-year colleges. Partnerships are needed to address such issues as curriculum and other program alignment issues, getting staff and faculty at both institutions on board with student needs and program requirements, and providing course and program articulation policies and practices between two-year and four-year institutions. Partnerships are also essential in developing pathways from a technical degree into a full baccalaureate, especially if some time has passed since the student has completed an associateâ€™s degree. In general, transfer and articulation policies and practices are frequently mentioned barriers to retention in STEM education.
4. Finding the resources to support and sustain STEM education program improvement. There is a universal lack of time and dependable, sustainable resources to support the necessary STEM education collaborations and program improvement initiatives. Furthermore, the weak economy has had a major impact on those efforts. Both two-year and four-year institutions struggle with the high cost of laboratory facilities. In addition, community colleges have difficulty in obtaining and managing external funding.
5. Aligning STEM education with workforce demands and practices. The academic and corporate agendas for STEM education that enable students to advance from two-year to four-year degrees in these fields and the need to offer programs that propel students toward specific careers in STEM are not always well aligned. In general, the dual role of community colleges to educate students for careers and matriculation in four-year programs is a continuing tension for community colleges.
The White House Summit
The administration of President Barack Obama has devoted considerable attention to community colleges. As part of his call to increase college enrollments and completion among young people, the President has asked community colleges to increase the number of graduates and program completers by five million students over a 10-year period, representing a 50 percent increase over current numbers.
In October 2010, the Obama Administration held a summit on community colleges at the White House organized by Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joseph Biden and an adjunct professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College. At that summit, President Obama called community colleges the “unsung heroes” of American education and emphasized the critical role they play in sustaining the nationâ€™s competitiveness. He pointed out that in the coming years jobs requiring at least an associateâ€™s degree are projected to increase twice as fast as those requiring no college experience. “We will not fill those jobs—or keep those jobs on our shores—without community colleges,” the President said (White House, 2011).