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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers Summary This study, funded by the National Science Foundation, was conceived as the first phase of a two-part project. For the first phase of the study, the findings of which are presented in this report, the committee was asked to (1) describe the changing role of community colleges in engineering education; (2) identify exemplary practices and partnerships between community colleges and four-year educational institutions; and (3) recommend critical areas for further study. The expected second phase of the study, to take place at a later time, would focus on selected research questions and provide guidance for policy makers. The study committee was overseen by the Committee on Engineering Education and the Committee on Diversity in the Engineering Workforce, both of the National Academy of Engineering, and the Board on Higher Education and Workforce of the National Research Council. The committee held two meetings that included presentations by outside experts, reviews of the literature, and guided discussions and deliberations; organized and conducted a two-day workshop that brought together selected administrators of community colleges and four-year institutions and faculty members from notable programs; and collected and analyzed data on recent engineering graduates with community college experience. Community colleges are already essential to the education of engineers in the United States. Indeed, 20 percent of engineering degree holders began their academic careers starting in and earning at least 10 credits at community colleges (Adelman, 1998), and 40 percent of the recipients of engineering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1999 and 2000 attended
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers community colleges at some time (Tsapogas, 2004). Nevertheless, the committee believes that community colleges have not achieved their full potential for several reasons: (1) a lack of understanding among parents, teachers, counselors, and students of the effectiveness of community colleges in producing engineering graduates; (2) less than effective articulation agreements (policies and programs designed to foster transfer) between community colleges and four-year institutions; and (3) a lack of cooperation and coordination among high schools, community colleges, four-year institutions, and state higher-education agencies. The workshop focused on five themes, in addition to identifying areas for further research: Challenges and opportunities for improving articulation and transfer between community colleges and four-year educational institutions. The recruitment and retention of students at various junctures of the community college pathway to engineering careers. The curricular content, quality, and standards of two-year A.S. programs and of four-year engineering programs. Opportunities for community colleges to increase diversity in the engineering workforce. Sources of data on community college and transfer students and the need for more systematic data collection. The report provides descriptions of exemplary programs and practices of community colleges and four-year educational institutions; outreach activities designed to recruit and retain K–12 students through the completion of the baccalaureate degree; and statewide initiatives focused on articulation and transfer. The committee recognizes that there is no “one size fits all” approach to articulation and transfer programs; therefore, the workshop was designed to identify a variety of ways community colleges and four-year educational institutions could improve pathways to careers in engineering and improve educational outcomes in preparing students to pursue engineering education. Based on the personal and professional experience of committee members and the workshop, the practices detailed in this report were identified as initiatives that have enhanced community college pathways to engineering. The experiences described by workshop representatives of two- and four-year schools indicate that articulation agreements are necessary, but not sufficient, for seamless transfers of community college students. The committee defined a “good” transfer partnership as a “second-level articulation,” that is, cooperative efforts by the two-year and four-year college to recruit students into engineering. Articulation, therefore, should
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers be based on student outcomes and competencies according to ABET guidelines (rather than on course credits, curricula, or the sequences of courses) determined by the university-community college partnership. Communication between two- and four-year transfer partners is critical to second-level articulation. According to workshop participants, successful transfer partners communicate frequently, visit each other’s campuses, meet frequently to discuss curricular changes, and even share faculties. Currently, communication between two-year and four-year faculty members varies from campus to campus and department to department, often depending on personal relationships among faculty members or administrators. Few formal approaches to communication were described. As the trends in engineering education move toward greater diversity and specialization in the lower division course offerings of four-year engineering programs, engineering science curricula at community colleges are less likely to cover the same material or achieve the same results. Thus, the need for communication and resource sharing between transfer partners and for the timely updating of articulation agreements is becoming more urgent. Better articulation also requires cooperation between two- and four-year transfer partners in the recruitment of engineering students. Four-year institutions can promote and support the community college pathway as a viable, even attractive, route to a baccalaureate degree in engineering. Individualized counseling and coaching can be provided early and often to students in both types of institutions. Workshop participants indicated that transfer students are often the best recruiters, mentors, and tutors for students at their two-year alma maters because they know how the system works. Ideally, faculty members at both institutions know each other well and, in the best partnerships, collaborate on projects, curriculum development, recruitment, and other activities that support community college transfer students (Rifkin, 1998). Exemplary articulation and transfer initiatives are characterized by clear, accessible information for parents and students who are candidates for community college engineering science programs, and transparent, accessible documentation regarding the transfer mission between partners. To increase the number of students who embark on the community college pathway to engineering, four-year schools will have to use their brand images to promote community college programs, perhaps by developing joint admission and recruitment programs with two-year schools. For example, the name of a four-year school could be listed next to the engineering science major on the community college application and promotional materials and joint high school outreach programs could be developed.
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers Workshop participants generally agreed that strong partnerships between community colleges and four-year engineering programs improve student recruitment and retention at both institutions. Community colleges that reach out to potential students through a variety of messages and media and demonstrate that they have a proven record of success in preparing students to transfer to an engineering degree program are more likely to succeed in their recruitment and retention activities, especially if they have an established articulation agreement with a four-year institution. Four-year institutional partners also benefit by being able to draw on an expanded, and in some cases more diverse, recruitment pool that includes talented community college students. Moreover, the retention rates at four-year institutions will improve when two- and four-year programs work together to prepare students to take upper-division engineering courses. Workshop participants reported that the lack of financial assistance from institutional, state, and federal sources is a significant barrier to the recruitment and retention of engineering science students in community colleges. Students who transfer to four-year engineering programs also need financial assistance to ensure that they can afford to stay in school until graduation Many workshop participants pointed out a need for better evaluations of articulation agreements and transfer processes. Evaluations should include: definitions of positive outcomes of diversity; assessments of learning outcomes; and assessments of shared-learning, outcomes-based objectives. The main concern expressed at the workshop was that articulation agreements may focus only on easily measured outcomes, such as the number of credits or courses, rather than on important learning outcomes and competencies. In fact, there is a fundamental disagreement between two-year and four-year programs about what evaluations should measure. Another serious problem is that many educational institutions do not collect or analyze data on students that would support assessments; even when data are collected, this is not done uniformly. Areas for future research include documenting performance outcomes in terms of recruitment, transfer, retention, and persistence to degrees in undergraduate engineering education. Data collected by educational institutions and research organizations on community college student outcomes in engineering education would provide a basis for improving transfer partnerships and articulation agreements Community colleges have long been recognized as providing opportunities to increase diversity in the U.S. engineering workforce, especially racial and ethnic diversity. Although the makeup of community colleges’ student bodies varies by geographic location, a larger percentage of students from some minority groups, notably Hispanics and American Indi-
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers ans, attend community colleges than white, African-American, and Asian students. In effect, community colleges have become an educational pipeline for underrepresented minorities entering the higher education system. Organizations in the engineering educational and professional communities could work together to increase the awareness of the importance of diversity in the engineering workforce and to educate state and federal legislators. State and federal funding for community college students and incentives for four-year engineering institutions to reach out to community colleges and their students could eventually lead to increases in the number of underrepresented minorities in engineering. Another area for future activity is the collection of comparative data to identify factors associated with the retention and persistence to the B.S. degree of women, minority, and nonminority male community college and transfer students. The lack of information (especially longitudinal and comparative information that can be disaggregated by gender, race/ethnicity, and other background variables) on the successes and failures of students who begin their engineering educations in two-year and four-year programs presents serious problems for an analysis of the transfer function of community colleges. Most often, community colleges lose sight of students once they transfer to four-year institutions, precisely when they should begin tracking their educational and career trajectories. Compiling and publicizing data on transfer students’ success in obtaining B.S. or advanced engineering degrees would demonstrate the effectiveness of engineering studies in community colleges and improve their recruitment rates. A comprehensive, systematic strategy for data collection on educational and career outcomes for community college and transfer students would require leadership in the engineering profession and from funding agencies to define the most relevant data items, to encourage collaboration between two- and four-year educational institutions, to ensure the privacy of students, and to develop vehicles for dissemination. Finally, the committee notes that the engineering education community, and the profession as a whole, would benefit from further discussion of the feasibility and desirability of accreditation for engineering science programs at community colleges. AREAS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH The committee identified a number of questions for further research: What is the attrition rate of students who begin their engineering studies at community colleges?
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Enhancing the Community College Pathway to Engineering Careers Do engineering students who begin at community colleges perform as well, better than, or not as well as other students? (A considerable amount of anecdotal information on this question was provided by workshop participants.) What factors in the culture, student services, and learning environments of community colleges and four-year engineering programs correlate with the retention and persistence of students to the B.S. degree? What evidence is there that community college engineering science students learn effectively via online courses? How can the teaching of mathematics be more focused on engineering applications? What competencies should students have after two years in engineering science programs? What data would persuade faculty and administrators of two-and four-year educational institutions and state and federal policy makers to enhance the community college pathway to engineering degrees and careers? Although this study examines partnerships between community colleges and four-year engineering programs, the primary focus is on the needs of community colleges and their students related to articulation agreements and transfer processes. Research on the perspectives of four-year educational institutions would also be helpful, as would an in-depth examination using both quantitative and qualitative data-collection methods of the experiences of a cohort of students entering and progressing through the community college pathway to engineering careers.
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