A new report by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) shows the growing importance of community colleges for female STEM students. According to SWE, recent graduation data show that about half of all women who earned a four-year engineering degree completed at least some of their coursework at a community college.
Improving outcomes for STEM transfer students
Community colleges don’t just serve as a starting point for female students in STEM fields. Nearly half of all Hispanic and African American undergraduate students (in any discipline) are enrolled at a community college. Further, 8 out of 10 first-time community college students intend to transfer to a four-year institution. Unfortunately, only about 3 of 10 first-time attendees (in any discipline) make this transition successfully. There is some good news. About two-thirds of students who start at a community college with the intention of transferring to an undergraduate engineering program complete their degree goals.
SWE wanted to better understand community college transfer process and how it impacted student success. One area in which SWE found room for improvement was in academic advising. High quality advising improved both student retention and satisfaction rates among female students. Poor quality advising, on the other hand, often drove female students away from engineering programs. Providing additional information about engineering specialties early in the student’s program of study, and pathways to reach those also helped female students persist in engineering programs.
Educational financing also played a significant role. Many female students started their undergraduate programs at community colleges as a cost-saving measure. Making more financial aid available often helped students participate in school-related activities and focus on studies. This also made it easier for female students to participate in mentoring programs, professional development and networking opportunities.
Many community colleges pay lip service to the importance of STEM careers and recruiting female students. WCC should work toward providing meaningful academic, financial and social support for STEM transfer students. Doing so would establish a solid transfer pipeline to help female and minority students complete a four-year STEM degree. It would also help refocus WCC on its educational mission for local residents.
Photo Credit: WOCinTech Chat, via Flickr