Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Community Colleges Crucial for New Scientists

It's been regurgitated more times than you can count the past few years: the United States needs to grow and diversify it's STEM workforce if it wants to remain competitive with other countries and the new global economy. Something I bet you haven't heard, however, is that community colleges are starting to become more and more important in this process. 

The stats say that more than 50 percent of lower-income and racial-minority students, along with 40 percent of all students, start off at community college. Of all these students, a mere 10 percent even consider a pathway in STEM. And usually, the students that do picture themselves in a STEM field initially change their minds as their studies progress.

The numbers get worse when you look at women. Of the 500,000 associate's degrees earned each year by women at community college's, a depressing five percent are in STEM fields.

Since finances are so important to a number of today's students, community colleges have the flexibility the budget-savvy student needs. The problem: while enrollment at community colleges is up, it's in large part due to one-year technical training programs. Not enough students are transferring to universities to obtain four-year degrees (what you need to get a job in the high-demand STEM fields).

So, how do we get get students to transfer to four-year universities after finishing up at a community college? That's were it gets tough...right now alignment between community colleges and four-year universities is the exception rather than the rule. Frequently, promising future scientists leave their major because certain credits don't transfer or because they don't feel invited into the science community at the university they're looking at. Alignment efforts couple with proper advising can change this!

Read some of Becky Wai-Ling Packard's commentary on the subject.