Effective Outreach, Recruitment, and Mentoring into STEM Pathways:Strengthening Partnerships with Community Colleges
Becky Wai-Ling Packard
Professor and Co-Director,
Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts
Mount Holyoke College
The community college is the modal higher education entry point for students across the nation and is even more typical for first-generation, low-income, racial-ethnic minority, and nontraditional-age college students. Complex barriers can decrease the feasibility of pursuing four-year degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields via community college pathways. Exemplary outreach and recruitment efforts can help to increase the numbers of students who enter these critical pathways, while effective mentoring strategies can mitigate barriers and improve retention. Specifically:
1. Outreach efforts need to target students and their families so they can learn about the many career options within STEM fields as well as tri-level partnerships and pathways that link high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions. Federal agencies and state departments of education should prioritize funding initiatives that exemplify sustainable, coordinated approaches to outreach. The National Science Foundationâ€™s Advancing Technology Education (ATE) Program portfolio provides many effective models for replication and expansion.
2. Recruitment is more effective when students can see the feasibility and relevance of completing a four-year STEM degree. States should expand dual-enrollment programs and make recommendations for college-preparatory math sequences; local policies should lift restrictions so college classes can count for both college and high school requirements. Governmental incentives should be directed toward industry partners who provide STEM-specific internships. Additionally, federal grants can incentivize the redesign of STEM courses at the introductory level.
3. Several mentoring initiatives improve student retention, including developmental bridge programs, science scholar programs, peer-led supplemental instruction, and undergraduate research experiences. Further research is needed into the design principles that make mentoring initiatives more effective and scalable. Funding agencies should require student mentoring plans in all relevant grant proposals, similar to the National Science Foundationâ€™s requirements for postdoctoral researchers. Grant programs should target innovations such as part-time summer research experiences for nontraditional students and future community college faculty mentoring programs. State higher education offices should include mentoring and retention plans as criteria for approving academic programs. Beyond formal programs, institutions need to expand informal mentoring strategies across their campuses.
In sum, efforts to recruit and retain community college students pursuing STEM transfer pathways should be coordinated, well designed, and sustained. Changes in educational policies and grant requirements can help to strengthen the impact of these investments. By helping institutional leaders in four-year institutions to recognize the benefits of collaborating with and learning from community colleges, we can further strengthen these critical partnerships.
This paper focuses on effective outreach, recruitment, and mentoring strategies that can increase the number and diversity of students who use community college pathways to earn four-year degrees1 in STEM. Many occupations in STEM fields now require a four-year degree; individuals who earn a bachelorâ€™s degree on average earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more during their careers and have access to a broader range of
1The importance of STEM associateâ€™s and certificate programs is recognized; however, these programs are not the focus of this paper.
career choices than high school diploma recipients do (Carnevale, Smith, and Strohl, 2010). Increasing STEM degree completion in the United States has been identified as an issue of national priority to boost global competitiveness (National Governors Association, 2011). The United States does not sufficiently tap the talents of the nationâ€™s students as evidenced by the underrepresentation of women, racial-ethnic minority, low-income, first-generation, and nontraditional-aged college students in many fouryear STEM degree programs (Bailey and Alfonso, 2005; Espinosa, 2011; National Science Foundation, 2007), and the high percentage of international students in U.S. graduate STEM programs (National Science Board, 2008).
Yet, this is where challenge and opportunity meet. Community colleges attract students from all backgrounds, especially those underrepresented in STEM, by the hundreds of thousands. Indeed the community college is the most typical entry point into higher education today, representing about 50 percent of college students (Bailey and Alfonso, 2005; Engle and Tinto, 2008; U.S. Department of Education, 2006). However, community college pathways to four-year degrees are not as effective as they could be. Each year, over four billion dollars in grants and state allocations are lost when new, full-time community college students do not return for a second year of study (American Institutes for Research, 2011). Transfer rates from community college to four-year institutions are low overall, especially for low-income students of color (Bailey and Alfonso, 2005; Engle and Tinto, 2008; Packard et al., 2011; Reyes, 2011). In addition, few women pursue a STEM transfer pathway (Packard et al., 2011; Reyes, 2011). In order to strengthen pathways to a four-year degree for students from diverse backgrounds, it is critical to identify effective outreach and recruitment strategies to attract students as well as mentoring strategies to mitigate barriers and improve retention. Further, we need to identify levers of change to expand these practices across the nation.
CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: THE FEASIBILITY OF STEM WITH A COMPLEX SOCIAL ECOLOGY
Students develop their college and career plans within a complex social ecology. Bronfenbrennerâ€™s ecological model helps us understand the influence of interconnected contexts on studentsâ€™ learning and career trajectories (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Students develop within many spaces including the home, school, and workplace. The relationships among contexts also influence students, such as how strongly parents and teachers communicate. Indirect influencers, including access to transportation or availability of jobs, also persuade students, as do the broader political or
economic contexts within which we all live, such as being in an economic downturn.
Applied to the pursuit of STEM majors in college, it is typical for students to be influenced by the guidance of a family member or a family friend (Kim and Schneider, 2005; Packard, Babineau, and Machado, 2012). When first-generation college students and low-income students turn to the home, however, they are not as apt to gain access to knowledge about college navigation, leads on internships, or a financial cushion if complications arise (Carter, 2006; Stanton-Salazar, 2011). For example, parents without college experience may not know that job training certificates rarely contribute toward an associateâ€™s degree, or that certain prerequisites are necessary to transfer from a community college into a four-year program.
In terms of home-school relationships, low-income parents may feel intimidated to approach high school math and science teachers, missing out on school-based support (Packard, Gagnon, and Moring-Parris, 2010). High school preparation is also an issue. In a study of 5,000 Latino community college students in Los Angeles, researchers found after three years of study, less than 9 percent of students were in a position to transfer to a four-year school, mostly due to the need for developmental courses (Hagedorn and Lester, 2006). Thousands of students each year enroll in developmental math, but only a few continue on to the transfer-based math courses and into a four-year STEM program (Hagedorn and DuBray, 2010). On the positive side, community college students generally report having positive experiences in STEM education with dedicated teachers and smaller class sizes that encourage students to continue their education (Patton, 2006).
Financial background is a major predictor of college entrance and persistence. Students from lower-income backgrounds are most likely to delay going to college, work many hours while attending college, attend school part-time, and limit their time on campus—all factors that predict degree noncompletion (Complete College America, 2011; Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2010). Low-income, first-generation college students are four times more likely to leave college during their first year than their peers are, and more than three times less likely to transfer to a four-year school in a six-year time frame (Engle and Tinto, 2008). Simply put, delays discourage students from transferring; students may elect shorter-term educational programs such as drafting instead of a longerterm career choice such as engineering, or leave STEM completely as a result (Packard and Babineau, 2009). What adds to the juggle: about 50 percent of students are employed at least part-time, and many are working full-time, while going to school (American Association of Community Colleges, 2007; Perna, 2010). Also, when students work many hours, they may not be able to avail themselves of academic resources such as office
hours or study group sessions (Complete College America, 2011; Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2010), thereby decreasing access to opportunities designed to grow studentsâ€™ academic capacities and their sense of capability (Lotkowski, Robbins, and Noeth, 2004). Although access to a relevant job can positively contribute to STEM persistence, these opportunities are not as frequent as one might think (Packard et al., in press). Finally, the pressure on community colleges to provide an effective and efficient mechanism for transfer has intensified in recent years despite serious resource constraints (Dowd, 2007). A study of 400 students from nine community colleges in Los Angeles found that ineffective advising, influenced in part by extremely high student-to-counselor ratios, led to a lack of student information about transfer requirements (Hagedorn, Cypers, and Lester, 2008). In many states, community colleges are not aligned with one another (Packard, Gagnon, and Senas, in press). For example, Biology 101 is not necessarily the same course at one community college as it is at another community college, leading students even in the same state to lose credits and time (Handel, 2007). Going further, articulation agreements between community colleges and four-year schools still require attention at the disciplinary level; it is still often the case that students will take a STEM prerequisite at a community college and later earn only general credits, rather than credit for a major requirement, upon transfer to a four-year institution (Packard et al., 2011; Reyes, 2011). In addition, women earn the majority of associateâ€™s degrees within community colleges, but only 5 percent earn degrees in STEM fields (Hardy and Katsinas, 2010), with community college men outnumbering their female peers in STEM majors at a ratio of three to one (Espinosa, 2011). Negative stereotypes about STEM careers are still prominent and can deter students; racial-ethnic minority students may especially question their fit or feel alienated from STEM fields (Aikenhead, 2001; Carlone and Johnson, 2007).
To conclude, feasibility is a major factor to consider when conceptualizing why we do not see more students pursuing or completing STEM majors via community colleges. Students may not have ready access to information about college pathways, while others question their fit within the STEM profession. A lack of academic preparation, particularly in math, may thwart the pursuit of STEM fields while others may find STEM degrees less feasible to pursue due to time and financial barriers. Additional delays are often experienced during the transfer to a fouryear institution due to curricular misalignment or ineffective advising, leading some students to let go of their STEM majors or pursue a shorterterm program of study. Unfortunately, current programs designed to improve outreach, recruitment, and mentoring are not yet sustainable on a larger scale; not enough students are experiencing best practice in these
domains. In the next sections, I discuss effective ways to improve outreach into STEM, highlighting the effective leadership that community colleges have taken in this domain. Second, I address effective recruitment into STEM by focusing on efforts to make STEM degrees feasible and relevant. Third, I review highly effective mentoring practices that improve retention in STEM within community college pathways to a four-year degree.
Barriers for Community College STEM Students
• Limited knowledge about college navigation
• Financial—both time and cost
• Academic preparation in math and science; need for developmental courses
• Misalignment of core courses across community colleges and four-year schools
• Delayed, inconsistent advising, orientation, and mentoring
• Constraints affecting the academic and social integration of working students
• Self-doubt regarding capabilities
• Cultural fit with professional identity or four-year institution
• Limited sustainability of programs designed to improve recruitment and retention
OUTREACH: BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS AND CULTIVATING INTEREST
Students and their families need greater access to information about college-going, feel invited into the college environment, and see compelling options in STEM fields. “Outreach” in this paper refers to an initiative designed to inform or invite students into STEM pathways. Outreach techniques include information campaigns, career days, and job shadowing (Kelly and Schneider, 2011). Effective role model selection improves outreach; interactions with role models with whom students can relate, such as alumni from their own communities or students just a step ahead of them in their education, discussing challenges they overcame, can be most effective at motivating students (Packard and Hudgings, 2002).
Outreach is a worthwhile, yet limited investment, as its primary aim is to inform or spark interest, not necessarily to facilitate enrollment or long-term persistence. Any one-time initiative that simply exposes a student to a range of interesting career options on a single day is not likely to have much of an impact. However, even short-term programs that integrate scientists into classrooms or where students engage in hands-on, authentic activities can grow student knowledge and interest in science careers (Laursen et al., 2007). More time-intensive programs, such as pre-college summer programs where students are exposed to laboratory experiences over the course of several weeks on a college campus,
can contribute to increases in interest for learning science or pursuing a science career (Markowitz, 2004). Without ongoing support and continued learning experiences, however, students may move away from a STEM interest over time toward another field where they do gain support (Packard and Nguyen, 2003). Thus, outreach efforts that are more timeintensive or sustained over a period of time are recommended.
Statewide and nationwide consortia, where clusters of programs are coordinated, organized, or offered in collaboration across a region, state, or nationwide, or across age and grade levels, can have more compelling effects than single programs operating in isolation. When programs are linked, students can more easily move forward through STEM pathways and continue to experience encouragement and engagement in a progressive manner, and resources can also be better allocated and utilized.
Two projects funded by the National Science Foundationâ€™s Building Capacity in Computing Program demonstrate effective statewide initiatives: Georgia Computes! (see http://gacomputes.cc.gatech.edu/) and Massachusettsâ€™s Commonwealth Alliance in Information Technology Education or CAITE (see http://www.caite.info/). In each project, efforts are coordinated statewide and across levels of education. In Georgia, they coordinated middle and high school summer camps, linked high schools with colleges, and facilitated collaboration between college students and graduate students using online tools. In addition, the consortium works with high school teachers through the Georgia Department of Education to offer workshops on new approaches to stimulate interest in computing education. In Massachusetts, CAITE is also an exemplary model that has organized a cross-alliance focus on community college transfer with regularized regional meetings. Further, a number of national-level organizations were recognized by the White House for working across the nation to promote effective outreach in STEM. For example, the National Girls Collaborative (see http://www.ngcproject.org/) maintains a database of organizations that support outreach to girls in science. For more effective outreach, grants should prioritize collaborative projects that coordinate outreach efforts across a state or within tri-level educational partnerships.
Embedding College Access Within Communities
Colleges can work to embed themselves within their local communities and high schools so that people in those communities see an open door to higher education. The more relationship-building there is between community colleges and four-year colleges and universities, the more
successful we will be at helping students and families to navigate these four-year college pathways. Many community colleges already provide leadership on this front. For example, Austin Community College (ACC) has successfully embedded itself in the community by using multiple methods to increase the number of students who enter its doorways. Of particular interest is the College Connection Program, which won the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board 2006 Star Award. Through this partnership, ACC works with high school seniors in 15 school districts to provide admission and enrollment services on their high school campuses. A stunning 6,400 high school seniors in Central Texas received an admissions acceptance letter to ACC with their high school diplomas. From 2003 to 2005, enrollments increased nearly 38 percent; the program also encouraged students to enroll in other colleges and universities (Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 2011). One recommendation is that all high schools should have community college and four-year partners and should be supported by state-level funding. Ultimately, students need to get the message repeatedly that applying to a community college goes hand in hand with the pursuit of a four-year college and university.
The focus of this paper is the pursuit of STEM; thus, it is important that messages about college access include a disciplinary message (for instance, start a science degree or science career at this community college). Having a scientist or college science students in the classroom, from both community colleges and four-year institutions, can communicate a powerful message on this front. The Boston Area Technological Education Connections (BATEC) has provided leadership in developing effective outreach protocols (Salaam, 2007).
Finally, math and science teachers in high schools are critical partners to community colleges and four-year schools. Improving science education can contribute to the number of students interested in studying science. Community college science and math teachers often select their careers because of a deep commitment to teaching; they can play an important role by recruiting and preparing new K-12 teachers who are interested in STEM education (Patton, 2006). A strong program that joins K-12 teachers and postsecondary educators at the four-year level is the Teachers Occidental Partnership in Science (TOPS) Program. Within this progressive program, high school educators have access to a number of resources, including cutting-edge instrumentation in the natural science fields, access to technology-based web programs that can be integrated into the K-12 curriculum, and support in professional development. Additionally, TOPS is also successful due to its alignment with statewide policies from the California Department of Education (Occidental College, n.d.).
The National Science Foundationâ€™s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) division has many exemplary programs for outreach efforts, and more specifically, the development of education modules to disseminate math and science instruction across the country. This program is the largest within the NSF to focus on community colleges; the numbers of students, families, and institutions positively affected are numerous (Advanced Technological Education Centers, 2011). One program, coordinated by the Museum of Science in Boston, is focused on improving educatorsâ€™ understanding of engineering, science, and technology by infusing engineering and technology concepts and skills into core introductory science and education courses in community colleges and four-year institutions (Cunningham and Lachapelle, 2011). Many other STEM education program elements in the ATE portfolio are also worthy of replication and expansion. Thus, I recommend the importance of sustaining this program and disseminating its models more broadly.
Summary of Authorâ€™s Outreach Recommendations
• Select compelling role models who are step-ahead peers or alumni
• Coordinate outreach efforts across states and through national-level consortia
• Provide funding for outreach when efforts are organized across states, stakeholders, and levels of education
• Embed community colleges and four-year institutions into communities by working closely with high schools and sending united messages about access
• Invest in STEM teacher education as a form of outreach for teachers and students
RECRUITMENT: CREATING STEM PATHWAYS FROM HIGH SCHOOL INTO COLLEGE
Recruitment goes one step further than outreach; beyond sparking an interest or expanding career knowledge, the goal is to enroll students in their first course or to pursue a STEM major. In this section, I focus on creating feasible pathways for students to pursue STEM college degrees while they are still in high school. STEM degrees need to be both realistic and compelling to catalyze action. As mentioned, too many students arrive at community college without requisite math courses. Initiatives that increase the number of students arriving at college with college-level math in place increase the possibility of pursuing a STEM transfer pathway. In this section, I will focus my review on dual-enrollment programs
and STEM-specific early college high schools2 as well as the ways in which career-relevant internships and redesigned introductory courses can make a STEM major more compelling.
Prioritizing Pre-college Math
Dual enrollment, also called concurrent enrollment, refers to a practice in which high schools students take college-level classes, often on a college campus, while working toward their high school diploma. During the 2002-2003 school year, almost a decade ago, only 5 percent of all high school students, or 813,000 students, across the nation took college credit courses, with 77 percent using dual-enrollment partnerships between their high school and community college to do so (Golann and Hughes, 2008). That number has dramatically increased. The National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) is an organization that accredits concurrent enrollment programs, for seven years at a time, ensuring that the courses high school students take throughout the nation are college quality and optimal for college readiness. There are currently only 66 NACEP-accredited programs; most are two-year college partnerships, while 24 are four-year institution partnerships.
A dual-enrollment experience is more successful in predicting future college-going when students have had a more authentic college experience. Authenticity is enhanced by having class at the college campus and having classes in mixed groups of high school and college students (Edwards, Hughes, and Weisberg, 2011). Across the country, state-level policies exist that aim to support success in dual enrollment (Karp et al., 2005). For example, 18 states have a mandatory state policy on dual enrollment in which high schools must inform students of program opportunities and accept credit. Dual credit means that the credits earned are applicable toward high school and college requirements (Edwards and Hughes, 2011). However, at the local district level, variability exists in whether the high school will accept a college course for both a high school and college requirement. By lifting this restriction, high schools can play an important role in compressing the higher education timetable.
Not all students have access to dual-enrollment programs; students with high grade point averages have been prioritized over other students, and sometimes dual enrollment is reserved for career and technical education students (Karp and Hughes, 2008; Karp et al., 2008). However,
2Although scholar cohort programs and developmental bridge programs are also effective recruiting mechanisms, I choose to highlight these approaches in the mentoring section of this paper in order to describe a comprehensive range of effective mentoring initiatives together.
based on research within Florida and New York, expanding the eligibility requirements to students with even lower grade point averages is recommended because students are more motivated to persist in college as a result of gaining college credit while in high school (Karp et al., 2008). This important research also suggested designing dual-enrollment sequences, because students who took more than one dual-enrollment course observed greater benefits, and to offer dual-enrollment courses tuition-free to aid those economically disadvantaged. Completing a college-level math course not only opens doors to STEM degrees, but also predicts college persistence in general (Moore and Shulock, 2009). Thus, a recommended sequence that would lead students to pre-college math is recommended.
In a related movement, early college high schools (ECH) offer merged high school and college experiences on a compressed timetable. Recent research based on five years of this practice in which high schools are housed on a college campus cautiously suggested positive outcomes and the need to continue longitudinal work in this domain (Berger et al., 2009). In 2009, there were more than 200 early college high schools in 28 states, accounting for 50,000 students, with students from a lowincome background (70%) and ethnic minorities (59%) accounting for the majority of participants (Jobs for the Future, 2009; Webb and Mayka, 2011). Almost all ECH graduates earn college credits across many fields of study. For example, a striking 95 percent of students at the Hidalgo Independent School District in Texas, a rural high-poverty district serving mostly Hispanic students, earned college credits while enrolled in an early college high school (Nodine, 2011). In addition, one in three ECHs is STEM-specific (North, 2011). In 2009 and 2010, close to 1,500 students graduated from over 30 STEM-themed early college high schools. Of these graduates, 25 percent earned an associateâ€™s degree while in high school, and two-thirds went on to a four-year college. One STEM-specific early college high school is Metro in Ohio, which has a partnership with Ohio State University and the Battelle Corporation. In the past two years, all Metro students were accepted to college, many students received college scholarships, and all were STEM-ready (North, 2011). A continuation of STEM-specific early college high schools, with continued research study, is warranted.
In sum, policy makers can find ways to make these programs more accessible and help credits transfer. For one, it needs to be a more common practice where college credit hours can fulfill state requirements for days and minutes needed for studentsâ€™ high school graduation (Jobs for the Future, 2006). State and local district policies need to lift restrictions so that college courses can count toward high school requirements as well as college credit. The practice of dual or concurrent enrollment can also be
facilitated by making use of technology, such as online or blended course modules, where more students can gain access to a college-level math course (Lovett, Meyer, and Thille, 2008).
Even if the major is feasible to pursue, barriers still exist in the form of negative career stereotypes and perceptions. Improving the relevance of STEM careers can help. Because community college students are more apt to work while going to school, it is important to make these work experiences career-relevant, as seeing the relevance of their school learning to a career can positive motivate students (Packard, Babineau, and Machado, 2012: Packard et al., in press). Government incentives can be used to increase the number of companies providing STEM internships to students. In addition, introductory courses need to be redesigned to help students to see themselves within STEM pathways and to see the careers as more compelling to pursue. The use of interdisciplinary courses, service-learning, and society-relevant materials may be particularly promising for enrolling female and underrepresented racial-ethnic minority students (Chamany, Allen, and Tanner, 2008; Coyle, Jamieson, and Oakes, 2006). Federal grants should be used to incentivize colleges and universities to redesign these courses and to study their impact.
Summary of Authorâ€™s Recruitment Recommendations
• Compress timetables for college completion using dual enrollment and STEM-specific early college high schools, thereby increasing feasibility of STEM college pathways
• Prioritize completion of a college-level math course through recommended sequences
• Expand eligibility for dual-enrollment programs to a wider range of students including students with lower grade point averages
• Lift restrictions so that college courses can count toward high school requirements and college credits
• Provide governmental incentives to companies to provide STEM internships
• Provide grant incentives for colleges and universities to redesign introductory courses using interdisciplinary and service-learning approaches so students can see themselves within STEM pathways
MENTORING: COMPREHENSIVE NETWORKS AT TRANSITION POINTS
Typically, mentoring is described as a term depicting a close one-toone relationship, often formalized and intensive, where an older, more
experienced person helps to encourage and guide a younger, less experienced person (Crisp and Cruz, 2009). However, models of mentoring have transformed in the past two decades such that it is now more widely accepted that mentoring can be obtained through various sources, including professional organizations, online systems, and even shorter-term relationships (Furman et al., 2006; Packard, 2003b). What we know from examining research and best practice is that many different kinds of mentoring relationships contribute to persistence in college and within STEM specifically. Students are more likely to persist in STEM when they experience a combination of (1) socioemotional mentoring functions, such as encouragement or role modeling, and (2) instrumental mentoring functions, including academic support, college navigation, and career coaching (Packard, 2004-2005). When students have multiple mentors from a variety of contexts across home, school, and the community, they are more likely to obtain a wider range of mentoring functions (Packard et al., 2009). A constellation mentoring strategy, or having a set of strategically assembled mentoring relationships from different sources that provide a range of mentoring functions along oneâ€™s pathway, is recommended to promote persistence and career success.
In my work, I use a functional approach to studying and designing mentoring initiatives, which means one is focusing on the functions provided by a range of mentors than on any one formalized mentor (Packard et al., 2009). A functional approach to mentoring is helpful when considering the experiences of underrepresented groups as it is unlikely one can find a singular mentoring source to provide all functions needed (Packard, 2003b). In addition, a functional approach assumes a broad conception of mentoring, and is consistent with a constellation mentoring strategy. For example, peer sources of mentoring can sometimes be overlooked when using traditional conceptions of mentoring; however, peers are very effective at promoting a studentâ€™s sense of belongingness and academic capability and thus are often an important part of a studentâ€™s constellation (Ensher, Thomas, and Murphy, 2001; Packard et al., 2011.
A broader economic context also provides insights into additional support needed to access available mentoring. For example, if a student does not have access to transportation or cannot afford to give up four summer weeks of pay in order to participate in an 8-week summer mentoring program, then a particular mentoring initiative may miss out on the target students. Furthermore, students need to be able to reassemble their networks at transition points. Indeed, the mentoring that helps students to enter community college and select a STEM major may be different from the mentoring that helps students persist in a STEM major after transferring to a four-year school.
Several mentoring practices have been highlighted in the literature as improving student retention, including:
• Transition mentoring programs such as developmental bridge programs, college success courses, learning communities, and scholar cohort programs;
• Academic mentoring programs including peer-led supplemental instruction;
• Career-relevant mentoring programs including undergraduate research experiences and online career mentors (MentorNet).
These mentoring practices can each have a strong impact on diverse students pursuing community college STEM pathways to four-year degrees. Next, I will briefly describe some promising design principles for each of these approaches.
Transition Mentoring Programs
Transition mentoring programs leverage same-stage peer mentoring by establishing smaller cohorts of students. By featuring regular academic and counseling support for students, the transition is eased. However, important research has been conducted that examines different instantiations of these programs, highlighting important design principles. In the next paragraphs, I discuss developmental bridge programs, college success courses, learning communities, and scholar cohorts in further detail.
The idea behind a developmental bridge program is that enrolling in the bridge program will help students to accrue necessary academic and social skills before officially entering college so that they will be more apt to succeed. In a rigorously designed study of eight different developmental bridge programs in Texas, program students gained several benefits compared to control students, such as greater academic success in math and writing courses, as well as a greater likelihood to enroll in future writing and math courses (Wathington et al., 2011). It was clear that a combination of regular academic instruction in math and writing, college success advising, and academic plus social support from upper-level students each contributed positively. However, the authors suggested that some institutions do not find developmental bridge programs to be economically viable, so these elements are sometimes integrated into existing developmental courses or learning community approaches already used by the institution. Related research has discussed the impact of college success courses or extended orientation programs; researchers have been surprised at the positive impact on persistence above students who do not
participate in such programs (Advisory Committee on Student Financial Aid, 2008; Berger et al., 2009).
An alternative to or complement to developmental bridge programs is a first-year seminar or learning community. Research focused on first-year seminars, which place introductory students into a small course section often with a common advising hour (Goodman and Pascarella, 2006), and learning communities, where students co-enroll in multiple introductory courses simultaneously (Weiss, Visher, and Wathington, 2010), shows that these approaches are associated with positive outcomes as well. However, further study will give us a better sense of the important elements. A recent, rigorously conducted research study suggested that a “basic” model of a learning community where students are co-enrolled in two or more classes together is not sufficient; instead, a more elaborated model involving interdisciplinary course planning by the professors of the two classes and special advising of the students was more effective (Weiss, Visher, and Wathington, 2010). Specifically, Kingsborough Community College organized co-enrollment of racially diverse cohorts in three classes: developmental English, an academic subject, and one credit of college orientation. Students also obtained counseling and a book voucher, while faculty received special professional development. In comparison to the control group, students felt more integrated and engaged, they passed more courses and earned more credits in their first semester, and slightly more program group members were still in college two years later. At Hillsborough Community College, a more basic approach was used in at least the first two semesters where students coenrolled in a developmental reading course and a college success course. In the third semester, the faculty increased their collaboration and linked the co-enrolled courses more closely together. Positive impacts on the learning community students in contrast to the control students were only observed in the third semester, suggesting that simply co-enrolling students does not make a learning community effective.
Yet a third instantiation that also leverages same-stage cohorts for peer mentoring is found in scholar cohort programs. A scholar cohort is a group of students selected to be part of a distinguished cohort, such as a team of science scholars, because of stronger academic qualities or leadership potential. Typically, a scholar cohort will stay together for at least the first year of college. Science scholar cohorts have been studied and are shown to promote persistence, particularly among first-generation college students and low-income students (Myers, Brown, and Pavel, 2010), as well as promote graduate school attendance in STEM fields (DesJardins et al., 2010). A very effective university-housed program is the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. According to research on this program using a number of comparative
samples, the Meyerhoff Scholars were more apt than peer counterparts were to persist in a STEM major, to go to graduate school in STEM, and to earn better grades. In addition to the rigorous selection process and strong financial support of students, the use of study groups, a required summer bridge program, a shared residential location, and professional mentoring are credited as important factors (Maton, Hrabowski, and Schmitt, 2000; Stolle-McAllister, Sto. Domingo, and Carrillo, 2011).
Another incredibly powerful example is the Posse Scholar model (see http://www.possefoundation.org). Most Posse Scholars are students of color and first-generation college students. The quotation from the Posse website is compelling, “I would have made it in college if I had had my posse with me.” Thus, by creating a posse and sending the posse to college together, the students are more likely to persist than any one member would have alone. The results have been remarkable, with 90 percent of Posse Scholars graduating from college, and most going on to graduate school. Selection is highly competitive, and the program prepares the scholars months in advance, through workshops provided by a special trainer. The selective four-year college provides full merit scholarships and an onsite mentor with whom they meet every other week, among other resources. Of particular interest is Brandeis, the first university with a Science Posse, funded by Posse and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Their selection process, too, is highly competitive (10 chosen from 1,600 applications in New York City). Science posse students attend an intensive two-week science bootcamp, enroll in a math and science course in their first year, and are placed in a research laboratory in their first semester. Although the program is still under study, the Brandeis coordinators reported it shows early signs of success; when science posse students thinks about leaving STEM, they do think twice because of what that means for their peers, and the program sees more frequent STEM majors within these cohorts as a result.
Academic Peer Mentoring
Academic mentoring is critical for student success. Many colleges and universities have tutoring programs, but they are often critiqued as being remedial and potentially stigmatizing for students seeking help. In contrast to tutoring, academic peer mentoring programs such as supplemental instruction (SI) or facilitated study groups (FSG) can encourage a culture of excellence in STEM through peer academic support for all. SI sessions are fundamentally very different from tutoring because peer instructors lead a reprise of the lecture, with prepared interactive materials designed to target misconceptions and trouble spots. The underlying
premise of an FSG is similar to SI, but the overall climate of an FSG can feel more like a collaborative study session with the leader facilitating problem-solving exercises. Developed by Uri Treisman, the FSG approach helps to de-stigmatize help-seeking and instills habits of mind that are predictive of excellence (Treisman, 1992). In these models, students have leadership positions to grow into as they advance in the major, providing even more incentive, due to improved mastery and commitment to their majors (Lockie and Van Lanen, 2008). The programs are cost-effective and help to alleviate burden on faculty in office hours.
Supplemental instruction is an approach with a strong research foundation (Bronstein, 2008; Peterfreund et al., 2008; Preszler, 2006; Rath et al., 2007). University of Missouri–Kansas Cityâ€™s National Center for Supplemental Instruction recommends a method in which gateway courses, or ones that appear to hold people back from progressing in the major, are identified by analyzing course grades and withdrawals, as well as by using faculty nomination and student nomination. Students who attend SI or FSG sessions tend to do better in the gateway class, with positive results documented in introductory and upper-level courses, across science disciplines, with even greater benefits to racial-ethnic minority students (Rath et al., 2007). In summary, colleges should ensure that students in gateway courses not only have tutoring services, but also have SI or FSG sessions attached to them, as these provide insurance for retention and support for excellence for all students.
Career Mentoring Experiences
Numerous studies have documented the positive influence of undergraduate research experiences as a critical career-related mentoring experience (Gregerman, n.d.; Kim and Schneider, 2005; Seymour et al., 2004). Students gain a better sense of the field, grow their skills, and increase their commitment to STEM fields. Students can benefit from research opportunities in the summer or during the academic year. One recommendation is to fund more flexible research experiences for undergraduates, such as part-time summer research programs, so that nontraditionalaged students, students who need to continue working in another job, or students with families would be more apt to participate. In addition, online career mentoring systems such as MentorNet have been effective at sustaining STEM career interests by providing access to industry career professionals (Packard, 2003b). To expand these types of program, businesses can be incentivized to provide STEM mentors. A mentoring program could be developed to support graduate students who want to learn more about becoming a faculty member at a community college.
As for recommendations on mentoring, I offer many. Ultimately, further research needs to be conducted into the design principles for effective mentoring and how to bring these initiatives to scale. Training for mentors (Pfund et al., 2006) and students (Packard, 2003a) needs to be expanded to improve the efficacy of mentoring programs. Additionally, we need to infuse informal mentoring strategies into the daily activities of faculty and staff across campuses. Indeed, one of the strongest predictors of student engagement and persistence in STEM fields is the quality and type of interactions with faculty (Amelink and Creamer, 2010; American Society for Engineering Education, 2009; Kim and Sax, 2009; Ohland et al., 2008; Vogt, 2008). For example, the NSF-funded Engage in Engineering project (http://engageengineering.org) is working to strongly infuse facultystudent interaction into colleges of engineering across the country. Institutions also need to expand their institutional research capacities so that mentoring initiatives can be studied and linked to retention outcomes. Finally, state-level higher education offices that approve new academic programs should require mentoring and retention plans (Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, 2011).
Summary of Authorâ€™s Mentoring Recommendations
• Federal agencies and other organizations should require student mentoring plans akin to the National Science Foundationâ€™s postdoctoral research requirements.
• State-level higher education offices should require mentoring and retention plans for new programs
• Institutions should invest in their institutional research offices in order to study the effectiveness of bridge programs, college success, and supplemental instruction on retention within disciplinary majors
We know that students and their families need access to information about STEM college programs and career opportunities. By forming partnerships across high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions, and by coordinating outreach efforts, we can reach more students, grow knowledge, and spark interest. Beyond this, students need to find STEM pathways feasible to pursue and this will become more likely by expanding dual-enrollment programs that emphasize the completion of college-level math courses. Next, we need to expand effective mentoring initiatives in order to sustain the progress of students in these pathways. Several mentoring program types have been documented to show posi-
tive outcomes at the initial transition into college (developmental bridge, college success, and scholar cohort programs), within academic courses (supplemental instruction), and into the major (research experiences).
Because additional research is needed to continue to identify the design principles that improve effectiveness when programs are brought to scale, community colleges will need assistance to build capacity for institutional research efforts in order to contribute to the emerging knowledge base. It is also the case that institutional leaders need to understand the value of recruiting and retaining diverse students in STEM from community colleges to four-year institutions so that all students, especially the most underrepresented, see STEM fields as fields they want to pursue and places in which they will thrive. Although there is much work to do on this important issue, we can also see the many partners in this work who can contribute.
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