Important Points Made by the Speaker
• The numbers of community college students who transfer to four-year colleges and earn degrees in the natural sciences and engineering need to be greatly increased.
• Transfer scholarships focused on STEM fields and “individual development accounts” could help increase the diversity of students in STEM fields.
• Evidence-Based Innovation Consortia (EBICs) could create networks of relationships among community colleges, universities, and open education resource practitioners to support the adaptation and adoption of evidencebased innovations.
In analyzing transfer from community colleges to four-year institutions, Alicia Dowd, co-director of the Center for Urban Education and professor of higher education at the University of Southern California and author of one of the commissioned papers (see Appendix D), cited a recent report from the National Science Board (2010). That report called for providing quality science and mathematics teaching to all students, improving talent identification, and creating supportive ecosystems through professional development for STEM educators. All three steps are needed to enhance the flow of students from community colleges to four-year institutions, Dowd said.
EFFECTIVE TRANSFER POLICIES
Using survey data from NSF of recent college graduates, Dowd and her colleagues have been examining degree choice among Latino and Latina students who earn an associateâ€™s degree on their way to a bachelorâ€™s degree. They have found that the majority of students who transfer from a two-year college to a Hispanic-serving institution and earn a STEM degree do so in the social and behavioral sciences. Very few receive degrees in engineering, the physical sciences, or the biological, agricultural, or environment sciences.
The culture, values, and beliefs of faculty are critical factors contributing to the lack of transfer students in the natural sciences and engineering, said Dowd. Faculty members need to be partners in redesigning transfer systems, and they need robust evidence about what is effective and what is ineffective.
Transfer scholarships focused specifically on STEM fields could have a powerful effect on students and institutions, Dowd proposed. In addition, individual development accounts— savings accounts that are matched by public and private sources—could help increase the diversity of students in STEM fields.
Structural reforms of the curriculum, mentoring programs, and cultural transformation are all necessary, Dowd stated. Moreover, funds are available through recent federal initiatives to take appropriate and targeted action.
EVIDENCE-BASED INNOVATION CONSORTIA
Dowd suggested the creation of what she called Evidence-Based Innovation Consortia (EBICs). Their overall intent would be to facilitate transformational educational innovations that enable all students to thrive. By working with community colleges, universities, and open education resource practitioners, EBICs could create networks that would support the adoption and adaptation of evidence-based innovations. These networks would include agencies, organizations, industry, foundations, and others interested in specific topics, such as the reinvention of the mathematics curriculum. They would support the development of effective tools for systemic interventions to achieve educational performance and equity goals, such as equity scorecards. Finally, they would conduct and support research to gather and analyze evidence of innovationsâ€™ effects.
Individual centers could focus on particular areas of innovation. For example, a center focused on the reinvention of the mathematics curriculum could coordinate the work of college faculty, researchers doing studies of curricula and pedagogy, and educators who are implementing innovative approaches.
These consortia would need to be prestigious, Dowd emphasized. For example, a high level of prestige among the EBICs could motivate faculty to participate more actively in improving transfer processes. The transfer rate for the most competitive private institutions has dropped from around 10 percent of student enrollments in 1990 to a little more than 5 percent in the most recent available data, Dowd noted. Other institutions enroll a higher percentage of transfer students, but the percentages at these institutions also have been declining. “That needs to change,” said Dowd, because society “needs students who start out in community colleges and enter into the professions.”
Collective Observations from a Breakout Group on Transfer
Individuals from the breakout group on transfer issues began the report to a plenary session of all participants by emphasizing articulation, alignment, and advising. Articulation agreements could benefit from greater clarity in terms of their scope, application to practice, and sustainability. Better alignment is needed between two-and four-year institutions, which will require that faculty members work together and collaborate on these issues. The members of the breakout session emphasized that “alignment” includes social and psychological components in addition to academic and institutional ones.
Second, improving transfer of students could benefit from research that explores the incentives and disincentives for effective transfer that can then drive changes in these incentives. For example, how might funding agencies promote incentives and diminish recognized barriers such as the cultural differences between institutions? State rankings of articulation and transfer policies based on research also might be a way to drive change.
Third, federal funding that allows students to have paid STEM-specific experiences— for example, through work-study or internship programs—could encourage more students to pursue STEM careers that would require successful transfer to four-year institutions.
Discussions on transfer issues during the summit centered on two broad issues—pathways and partnerships.
As opposed to the traditional image of a pipeline leading from K-12 education through college to graduate school and a career as a scientist or engineer, the concept of “pathways” is more appropriate for community colleges. Students can earn a variety of degrees and certificates from community colleges and either enter the workforce or a four-year institution. In many cases, students with four-year degrees return to community colleges to receive more specialized training.
Historically, students who enroll in technical education and receive applied associate degrees have transferred a limited amount of credits
to four-year institutions, observed Debra Bragg. Since these students are some of the most diverse of all community college students, this poses an equity issue since technical students are unlikely to go on to earn a bachelorâ€™s degree. Braggâ€™s research has looked at state policies that allow technical students to transfer to four-year institutions or enroll in a community college to earn an applied baccalaureate (AB) degree. Whether earned in a four-or two-year institution, AB degrees are spreading, and many of these arrangements are struck between particular two-and fouryear colleges and not reflected in larger state policy. Braggâ€™s research examines the various kinds of agreements that are associated with AB degrees, and she and her colleagues at the University of Illinois document and disseminate these degree arrangements.
Becky Packard observed that by the time community college students decide to become science or engineering transfer students, it may be too late, because they are already so far behind in taking the prerequisite courses that are needed to transfer. Students can become excited about physics and then get a reality check when they realize that they cannot major in the subject at a four-year school.
Advising and orientation sessions can be critical in keeping studentsâ€™ options open, especially if this guidance is specific to disciplines. For example, Jose Vicente of Miami Dade College noted that the college has launched a major program providing discipline-based orientation, not just in STEM fields but across the curriculum. Students benefit tremendously because they can see the roadmap for the entire period that they are at the institution. Also, in Florida, the legislature has allowed community colleges to provide baccalaureate degree programs for the past decade, and the students on this pathway are doing “stupendously,” according to Vicente. The higher education system is even developing a roadmap for such students to go on to graduate school.
Eun-Woo Chang of Montgomery College in Maryland observed that a major weakness of counseling in community colleges is that few counselors are familiar with STEM majors. He suggested engaging more STEM faculty in the academic advising process to compensate for this weakness. Montgomery College, for example, has engineering faculty provide academic advising for engineering students.
John Morton from the University of Hawaii Community Colleges said that officials at community colleges in that state found that many students who were interested in transferring to a four-year institution in a STEM field were disadvantaged in pursuing an associateâ€™s degree compared with students at four-year institutions. As a result, the colleges instituted a transfer degree that is more parallel to bachelorâ€™s degree requirements. “Identifying [those students] as a cohort gave [them] an identity, and we
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.
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.