Diversifying STEM: Student Success and Community College Transfer in Engineering and Computer Science in Texas
Community college students are often excluded from conversations surrounding broadening participation in STEM, particularly in the fields of engineering and computer science (ECS). The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) conducted a study of ECS transfer students in Texas to understand the success of women and minority students on this pathway towards a baccalaureate degree. The findings suggest that greater attention to this pathway could make a significant impact on our ability to diversify the engineering profession.
“Community colleges are an increasingly popular route toward a baccalaureate degree, offering open enrollment policies, flexible schedules, and opportunities to address gaps in academic preparation.”
Community colleges provide a practical postsecondary option for many students interested in earning a higher education credential, but who are in need of a lower-cost, flexible alternative to a traditional four-year university program. Among the almost 18 million undergraduates in the U.S., 25 percent are older than 25 years of age, and approximately 40 percent work at least 30 hours per week. Almost 40 percent of undergraduates in the U.S. attended a public two-year college in 2015-16.
Community college is a particularly popular pathway for underrepresented minority students, who are overrepresented among community college student enrollments. In 2012, approximately 56 percent of Hispanic undergraduates, 53 percent of American Indian/Alaskan Native undergraduates, and 49 percent of Black undergraduates were enrolled in community colleges across the United States. Among women, 44 percent of undergraduate students were enrolled in community colleges in 2012. Notably, over 80 percent of first-time community college students indicate that they want to complete their bachelor’s degree or higher.
The community college pathway toward an engineering and computer science (ECS) baccalaureate degree has the potential to help us increase the diversity of the ECS fields, given that:
• Approximately 15 percent of two-year college students declare a major in engineering or computer science,
• Over 65 percent of students who declare an engineering major and transfer to a four-year university eventually complete an engineering baccalaureate degree, and
• Many underrepresented groups (including women and minorities) begin their education at a community college.
Unfortunately, only 33 percent of community college students, regardless of major, successfully transfer.
The Society of Women Engineers gratefully acknowledges the contribution of data retrieval and analysis provided by Marshall Garland, Joseph Shields, and Danial Hoepfner of Gibson Consulting, Inc.
SWE is thankful for the cooperation of the Texas Education Research Center advisory Board and staff for allowing access to the data required to conduct this research. SWE also thanks Nicole Yates of the National Society of Black Engineers for her collaboration on the literature review that provided the impetus for this study.
This research was made possible by the generous support of the Society of Women Engineers Corporate Partnership Council.