Important Points Made by the Speaker
• Many students lack the information they need to succeed in community college, especially if they are interested in pursuing a STEM degree.
• Students need to be exposed to STEM occupations and learn what they need to do to qualify for those occupations.
• Hands-on programs designed to recruit students into STEM fields need to be paired with academic preparation.
• Grants to colleges that require undergraduate mentoring plans could give more students the information they need to persist in STEM education.
AN ECOLOGICAL MODEL
In summarizing the main messages of the background paper she prepared for the summit (see Appendix B), Becky Packard of Mount Holyoke College used an “ecological model” that examines the many environmental factors and the relationships among those factors that affect studentsâ€™ choices. Students like Josie, described at the beginning of Chapter 1 of this report, are influenced by the home, the school, the workplace, and other contexts. Their access to resources, transportation, financial aid, and child care informs their choices. Many students, including first-generation and low-income students, do not gain the knowledge they need to navigate the college application and enrollment process successfully. Financial considerations can be and often are a significant barrier to college entrance
and persistence. And students often lack information on transfer requirements and what they are likely to experience if they do transfer.
When students gain mentoring from multiple contexts, they are more likely not only to persist in college but to do so in a STEM major, said Packard. “We have a pretty good idea of what we should be investing in,” she said.
Packard highlighted several of the recommendations from her background paper as particularly important to the summit.
First, more students and families need to understand the difference between a technical degree from a career institute and the community college transfer pathway to a four-year STEM degree. They also need to know much more about the STEM careers that are available. Students should be exposed to STEM occupations and learn what they need to do to qualify for those occupations.
Excellent models already exist, Packard observed. Statewide and nationwide, programs have developed coordinated approaches to outreach so that messages from high schools, community colleges, and fouryear institutions are reinforcing. The Advanced Technology Education centers funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)1 and other programs to broaden participation also have outreach programs in place.
In the area of recruitment, any hands-on program designed to attract students into STEM needs to be paired with academic preparation. Specifically, Packard suggested an expansion in STEM-specific dual-enrollment programs with community colleges or universities while students are in high school in addition to more common outreach and recruitment strategies such as summer enrichment programs. “Summer enrichment programs can enhance interest or get students to take a first course,” said Packard, “but greater academic preparation makes it realistic for them to continue going forward.”
Both honors students and struggling students can benefit from dual-enrollment courses because taking college classes during high school can motivate students to continue their education. In addition, high school students should be able to count their college classes for a
1Additional information is available at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2011/nsf11692/nsf11692.htm and http://atecenters.org.
high school requirement, which would allow students with lower grade point averages to take advantage of dual-enrollment classes.
Packard also called attention to the deterrent posed by developmental mathematics, which is discussed in the next chapter. Experiential programs and dual-enrollment classes that target academic mathematics requirements could recruit students into STEM fields and give them a realistic chance of persisting.
Research on mentoring is robust, sophisticated, and rigorous, Packard noted. Most of the newer studies are comparative, longitudinal, or control for self-selection issues. However, more research is needed on how to create more effective mentoring programs and bring effective mentoring programs to scale (references are provided in Appendix B).
Packard also recommended that grants require undergraduate mentoring plans. NSF has such a requirement for postdoctoral researchers, and there is no reason why this provision could not be extended to undergraduate students, she said.
Finally, she said, informal mentoring and advising need to be infused by faculty into all courses. Mentoring cannot be done through supplemental programs alone.
The American Institutes for Research has estimated that more than $4 billion in grants and state allocations are lost when new, full-time community college students do not return for a second year of study (Schneider, 2011). According to the report in which this estimate appeared, said Packard, “The only thing more expensive than fixing retention in community college is not fixing it.”
Packard was part of the first generation in her family to complete a four-year degree. A summer research experience motivated her to get a PhD, which led to research support from NSF and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. “Every single day I am grateful for the professor mentor who got me into a carpool and was flexible enough so that I could work my other two jobs,” she said. Yet the challenges that she faced pale in comparison to those faced by many students who are trying to navigate the community college transfer pathway. “Students are not just data sources to me,” she said. “I am deeply troubled by the struggles that students face when trying to navigate these pathways to four-year STEM degrees.”
Collective Observations from a Breakout Group on Outreach
From the breakout discussion on outreach issues, participants reported to all Summit attendees on three main messages:
First, mentoring and role modeling could be expanded to encompass colleagues and partners in business and industry. For example, professionals, especially those with backgrounds and experiences similar to those of their student audiences, might visit high schools and help inspire students to pursue STEM careers. Students who are more knowledgeable about what they can do with STEM skills can then work with advisors to develop plans for developing those skills.
Second, both students and faculty would benefit from more accurate and honest information about educational pathways. Such information could be disseminated more strategically and systematically. The same information could then be disseminated to students at both four-year institutions and community colleges so that they do not receive conflicting advice.
Third, more research is needed to validate existing programs, and the results of this research need to be communicated, especially to business and industry. Community colleges remain a well-kept secret in many communities. They may communicate well among themselves, but they do not always communicate well with the rest of the world. For example, it could be helpful for congressional policy makers to understand what the lives of community college students are like so that legislation and appropriations might be better tailored to their lives and needs.
In response to a question from George Boggs about orientation for transfer students, Packard said that some institutions have done a good job, though they are still the exceptions. Furthermore, she emphasized that transfer students should receive not just orientation but disciplinespecific orientation. Students need more than just a general acclimation to a college. They need to know what they missed in their education compared with better-prepared students so that they are not lost when preexisting knowledge is taken for granted. University administrators and faculty members need to put themselves in the shoes of transfer students and ask how they would fare. “It is a huge eye opener,” Packard said. “It is not just that the students are unintelligent.”
Linnea Fletcher from Austin Community College, who was a member of the organizing committee, said that as soon as she was away from community colleges for several years as a rotator at NSF, she started to forget what it is like to be a student at a community college. “As soon as you lose that perspective, you no longer can connect with those students and understand what their lives are like,” she said. For example, Fletcher pointed out that scholarships requiring students to take a full load and
not work are unrealistic for many students at community colleges, such as students with families. All levels of education must consider what it takes to make education work for their students, Fletcher said. In addition, Judy Miner from Foothill College, who was also a member of the organizing committee, reminded the participants of the importance of family engagement, community, and culture in attracting and retaining students of color in STEM.
Another member of the organizing committee, Thomas Bailey from Teachers College, Columbia University, observed that one potent recruiting tool for STEM transfer students could be introductory science courses at community colleges. Developmental education courses or student success courses are other ways to help students find direction. Students often are not aware of the requirements for transferring, even when they have declared a major leading to eventual transfer. “What is our responsibility to make sure that those students are progressing in a systematic and coherent way toward those goals?” asked Bailey. More advisers are needed, of course, but community colleges will need to combine technology with advisers given their financial constraints.
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