During the discussion periods throughout the summit, participants considered many issues, beyond those covered in the previous three chapters, which have vital effects on community colleges. This chapter combines important points from those discussions into several broad topics. It also includes a box on major issues identified by the summit participants in a pre-summit survey described in Chapter 1.
SUPPORT FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGES
Several participants at the summit pointed to the immense financial challenges now facing community colleges. Community colleges “have really been hit,” according to Jane Oates, and not just by the recent recession. Community colleges are often seen as having the capacity to raise funds in ways other than governmental support. As a result, policy makers and funding organizations view higher education—and community colleges in particular—as a lower priority than K-12 education, she said.
“We are not funding community colleges adequately,” said Alicia Dowd. “We are not funding public education adequately.” The counselorto-student ratio at community colleges is at best 1 to 1,000, Dowd said. Adjunct faculty need better compensation and responsibility for fewer classes. Faculty need professional development and engagement with their peers as well as with students. “We need to pay for public education, including community colleges, and for faculty who are on campus,” she said.
George Boggs agreed that if America is to meet the challenges of the future, policy makers must support colleges and universities as well as their students. States have cut funding to public higher education, including community colleges, despite a surge of enrollments. As a result, hundreds of thousands of students are being turned away because of inadequate resources. Boggs also observed that although part-time or adjunct faculty can do a great job in the classroom, a core of full-time faculty is essential to make policy changes and to work with colleagues at four-year institutions.
Mark Hubley from Prince Georgeâ€™s Community College in Maryland pointed out that when he started at the community college in 2002 his department had 15 full-time faculty. Today, the enrollments in his department are twice what they were—and the department has 16 full-time faculty. The faculty in the department teach at four locations in the county, the college has a program on the campus that enrolls high school students, and the department teaches dual-enrollment classes at five high schools in the county. He said, “As excited as I get about things that we hear in meetings like this, it also makes me feel overwhelmed.” In the future, said Hubley, the college will continue to need to do more with less, commenting that “anything you can do to help the faculty at community colleges will be most helpful.”
Funding priorities can be a force for change. As Karl Pister, former chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a member of the organizing committee observed, community colleges face the simultaneous challenge of educating potential transfer students, adults coming back to school, students taking developmental courses, and students interested in technical programs. In contrast, many four-year institutions have a “very monolithic culture” organized around conducting research. Research universities in their modern form were created when the federal government began making large investments in research in higher education following World War II. The same sort of change is required to spur major changes at the community college level, said Pister. “It is an application of the Golden Rule,” he said. “People change their culture when the people with the gold change the rules.” For example, federal agencies need to insist in their grant making that transfer be substantially increased. In Pisterâ€™s view, “Without that kind of incentivizing, I donâ€™t think we are going to see much in the way of change.”
Malvika Talwar from Northern Virginia Community College talked about the changes that targeted funding could make in the ranks of community college faculty. If community college careers were more palatable or exciting for students who are in graduate school, more PhDs would be interested in going this route. “When we are in graduate school, we donâ€™t really know much about community colleges,” she said. One possibility
would be postdoctoral teaching fellowships that are geared specifically toward community colleges. Such options would allow more students to explore that option and encourage mentors to talk about that route.
Support from policy makers and foundations is important, but the goals of improving educational attainment, particularly in STEM fields, will be met only if educators take responsibility for improving studentsâ€™ success, said Boggs. College and university faculty and administrators need to work together to improve completion rates and to facilitate the transfer of students from community colleges into upper division coursework.
Oates sounded a rare positive note regarding funding when she pointed out that the number of students with Pell grants who are in community colleges has gone up by more than 50 percent since 2009. She also said that more scholarship money is becoming available for students in both two-year and four-year institutions. The Obama administration has called for far more students to go to college and earn STEM degrees to help the economy grow. Revitalizing STEM education is not enough, Oates said. The challenge, she said, “is to embed STEM education as fundamental to Americaâ€™s future.”
Community colleges tend to have particularly close relationships with businesses and industries, for several reasons. Many offer career and technical education for occupations in nearby communities. In addition, employment is essential for many community college students. As Becky Packard pointed out, some students work full time and take one course at a time, though it may take them many years to earn a degree. Workplace tuition reimbursement programs can be particularly attractive options for such students.
Dowd suggested several other valuable roles that businesses could play. One is to fund transfer scholarships, which could raise the prestige of transfer students. Another would be to help establish and support community-based individual development accounts in which businesses would match money set aside for education. Celeste Carter from the National Science Foundation mentioned the possibility of businesses posing problems to groups of students that they could solve collaboratively. Packard added that linking scholarships with work-based internships could spur career development for students, rather than having jobs conflict with education.
Elaine Johnson from Bio-Link cited the importance of internships in steering students into STEM careers. Internships, particularly if they provide mentors and role models for students, can have a profound influ
ence by showing students examples of success. “How do we create that environment of welcoming and getting over some of the fear that students have that they are not going to be successful in STEM careers?” she asked. Bill Green from Accenture, a $25 billion company with 250,000 employees around the world, thanked everyone in the room for working on this issue. Solving these problems is not easy, he said, “but at the end of the day we are solving [these problems] for the competitiveness of our country and the standards of living of our citizens.” He, too, emphasized the contributions business can make. “You are trying to solve this problem on your own,” he said, while businesses are ready and able to help if they are challenged. For example, business provides $3.5 billion a year in philanthropy to education. “You can help us give it in a smarter, a more focused, and an evidence-based way,” he said to other summit participants.
One of the most effective ways to interest undergraduate students in STEM fields and keep them engaged is to get them involved in research. Several summit participants pointed to the special difficulties community college students have in doing research. It takes “a huge amount of time and effort to do that well,” said Steve Slater. Even 40-year-old dislocated workers going back to school, said Oates, need an opportunity to whet their appetite for STEM careers with a taste of research.
Innovative community college faculty are thinking about how to use research to teach and inspire, noted Carter. She pointed to the Council on Undergraduate Research as the source of several useful publications on models that community college faculty can use to integrate undergraduate research into community colleges (e.g., Council on Undergraduate Research, 2009). Slater similarly pointed out that one way to expose students to research is to integrate research into the classroom. For example, the data being generated by DNA sequencing and other genomics applications offer endless opportunities to do original research, even at the high school level.
A related problem is ensuring that transfer students have as many opportunities to do undergraduate research as students who started in four-year institutions. Transfer students may not know professors as well or have social networks that can open the doors to research experiences. Transfer students may also need help with transportation, child care, and financial support to participate fully in research.
PARTNERSHIPS WITH HIGH SCHOOLS
Partnerships between high schools and community colleges also can be extremely valuable for students, high schools and colleges, and businesses. In particular, dual-enrollment programs between high schools and community colleges can pique student interest in college and help prepare them for higher education. Dual-enrollment programs also can encompass four-year institutions. For example, Dowd observed that Santa Ana College in California has been developing relationships with the local high school district and with the California State University system to make pathways among the institutions clear and intentional, with scholarships for students as an incentive to graduate from high school and follow a pathway through community college to a four-year institution.
Other promising approaches are early-college high schools that are STEM specific, fast-tracked baccalaureate degrees, and greater flexibility on the part of four-year institutions in accepting credits. In such partnerships, councils of high school, community college, and university faculty can look at the curriculum and identify gaps. However, some summit participants noted that more selective four-year institutions are less likely to become involved in such collaborative efforts.
Jose Vicente observed that faculty-to-faculty exchanges are needed not only between community colleges and universities but also between the school system and community colleges. Such exchanges provide a much better understanding for K-12 faculty and the school system of what the community college curriculum entails. At the same time, community college faculty can gain a much better understanding of the issues being addressed in the school system.
Carter said careful thinking needs to be devoted to where dual enrollment works and where it does not. Some students are intellectually and emotionally mature enough to handle it, but others are not. In addition, Linnea Fletcher pointed out that dual-enrollment programs are threatened financially in many states. In Texas, for example, if a high school student signs up for a dual-credit course and passes the community college exam, the student does not have to pay tuition, but the state is now considering ending that program because of funding problems.
Elaine Craft from Florence-Darlington Technical College in South Carolina pointed out that dual-credit courses can run into resistance from high school teachers who are defensive about AP courses. “You get a lot of pushback for trying to put dual credit in anything that they have AP credit for. They like those classes. They like those students, and they donâ€™t want any competition,” she said, noting this is especially a problem in mathematics. Other participants countered that dual tracks in high school can work if they serve different purposes.
Several suggestions were made regarding research that could improve the contributions of community colleges in STEM education. Boggs said that more research is needed on attracting students, retaining them, and having them successfully complete programs at the certificate level, the associate level, and beyond. Research also is needed in closing achievement gaps and breaking down barriers within and between institutions. Policy makers are asking why public funds should go to public institutions, only to have students fail, Boggs noted. However, performancebased funding mechanisms can be detrimental if they are not carefully thought out and based on evidence of what works. What kinds of funding can create the right incentives, he asked.
Deborah Boisvert from the Boston-Area Advanced Technological Education Connections suggested doing research in conjunction with the new tax grants being made available to promote stackable credentials (which are sequenced credentials that can move an individual along a career pathway or up a career ladder). She also pointed out that inquiry-oriented introductory courses rather than traditional lecture-based courses may be more effective at retaining STEM students early in their college years, and these courses also could be the subject of research.
Catherine Didion emphasized the lack of data in certain critical fields, which makes it difficult to determine how to improve success. “There are some real gaps of knowledge,” she said. Dowd also pointed to the importance of data that would enable faculty and administrators to see exactly where students are being lost. For example, a project in California called the California Benchmarking project looked at cohorts of students starting at the earliest levels of developmental or pre-college mathematics. It then asked faculty to look at their syllabi and ask whether they are enabling the needed learning outcomes. If a student leaves one classroom with a passing grade and is unable to succeed at the next level, that is “a very powerful data point,” Dowd said. That project led to a student equity and success tool that enables colleges to look at cohorts in a fine-grain manner along milestones and momentum points.
Packard said that community colleges need a capacity for institutional research, which is often lacking today. Transfer is a shared issue, so they should be able to partner with four-year institutions in this research. In this way, institutions can leverage their resources and conduct much more useful investigations than either institution could do on its own.
Rebecca Hartzler from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching said that community colleges engage in considerable institutional innovation, but this work is rarely published. The Carnegie Foundation is trying to harness the innovation occurring in mathematics
classrooms and create a community to come together around, in this case, developmental mathematics.
Martha Kanter observed that much has been learned over the past few decades, so one challenge is to systematize the things that work and apply them elsewhere. The First in the World Program has a competitive fund to get four-year and two-year schools to engage in research on what works and to disseminate the results across the country. She asked, “How can we corral [research results] into something bigger?”
The time is right for a bold and ambitious interagency initiative that could break down silos, spur innovation, disseminate and implement best practices and successful models, and cultivate experimentation, said Judy Miner. And, as Monica Bruning from Iowa State University pointed out, the responsiveness and adaptability of community colleges make them ideal partners in such an initiative. “I canâ€™t think of a better group than the community college educational system in our country to handle [these changes],” she said.
Boggs said that the summitâ€™s success would hinge on what happened after the participants left and went back to their day jobs. “I hope this is not just a one-time event,” he said. Discussions need to continue with the goal of developing a comprehensive and coordinated “agenda for researchers, policy makers, educators, foundations, and business leaders to help us move ahead.”
Responses to a Pre-Summit Survey:
“Big Ideas” to Increase the Potential of Community Colleges for STEM Education and Careers
In the survey sent to registered participants before the National Academiesâ€™ Summit on Community Colleges in an Evolving STEM Education Landscape, respondents were invited to contribute one big idea or insight they have about increasing the potential contributions of community colleges to STEM education and careers. Their contributions included the following:
1. Building and strengthening STEM pathways between two-year and four-year institutions. Examples include creating a three-year curriculum focused on transitions to baccalaureate institutions for students lacking college readiness, developing degree completion models that build on two-year programs, providing opportunities for two-year and four-year faculty collaboration, and exemplary articulation policies and practices.
2. Promoting an inquiry-based model of STEM instruction across two-year and four-year institutions. Examples include student coaching, hands-on labs, and teaching methodologies that teach STEM content in the context of employability skills.
3. Instituting specific curricular programs that have proved effective in retaining students in STEM education and careers. Programs mentioned include workforce education programs and biotechnology programs.
4. Requiring articulation agreements as a means for creating viable and affordable pathways to STEM careers. One example is aligning occupational STEM curricula with academic curricula. Another is the articulation of complete technician education programs.
5. Providing better support systems for students. Types of support mentioned included grouping students into cohorts and addressing social, cultural, financial, and personal issues.
6. Adopting, publicizing, and promoting STEM education as a community college priority. STEM education at the community college level could play a major role in teacher preparation and workforce development. It also can reach rural and remote communities. Making STEM education a community college priority could encourage the development of two-year and four-year institutional partnerships, emphasize the importance of community colleges in the evolving STEM education landscape, and focus federal funding on this issue.
7. Initiating uninterrupted federal funding for two-year and four-year STEM education programs. NSF and other funding agencies could help strengthen STEM education by funding programs that start in two-year colleges and provide a seamless transition into four-year institutions.
8. Strengthening K-12 STEM preparation and achievement. Efforts that could be taken to improve the academic preparation of students in STEM include strengthening the K-12 curriculum, having students take a test to determine college or job readiness prior to leaving high school, having dual-enrollment programs that allow for transfer of credits nationally, and recruiting students from STEM academies.
9. Increasing the capacity and competitiveness of community colleges to receive grants from NSF and other federal funding sources. Disadvantages for community colleges in applying for federal funds for program improvement include a shortage of faculty time to develop proposals and manage grant projects, inconsistent college administration support for grants, lack of grant-writing expertise, insufficient internal and external partnerships, and limited resources for institutions to learn how to submit proposals and manage awards.
10. Establishing professional communities to work on specific STEM education challenges. Particular challenges mentioned include developing curricula, leveraging technology, promoting faculty development, and recruiting more women and minorities into STEM education and careers.
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