Recruiters Hear a "Me, Too!" from Community College Students

By Hendley, Vicky | ASEE Prism, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Recruiters Hear a "Me, Too!" from Community College Students


Hendley, Vicky, ASEE Prism


Like the tiny Whos of Dr. Seuss's Whoville-almost imperceptible, yet right under everyone's noses-there are thousands of potential engineering students calling out for recognition, while university engineering programs look right over them and complain that they just can't find enough qualified students.

Much has been said about the need to bring more good students, particularly women and minorities, into the educational pipeline that leads to an engineering degree. While many schools struggle to meet that goal, others seem to have found a relatively untapped sourcecommunity colleges.

Almost 50 percent of all college freshmen, as well as an even greater percentage of women and minority students who pursue a college education, start their postsecondary education at two-year schools, according to Department of Education statistics. Engineering educators who work closely with these schools say that despite the problems community college students face-everything from poor high school preparation to inequivalent college courses to elitist attitudes of four-year college advocatesstudents who transfer to a four-year school from a community college perform on par with the college's "native" population.

Engineering educators who cultivate this student source say that breaking down barriers that hinder community college students' attempts to transfer into university engineering programs will bring more students-especially those from underrepresented populationsinto engineering education.

Yet most university engineering program directors are not staking out community college campuses, trying to lure students and encourage transfers. And when engineering programs do accept transfer students, they often do not accept those students' community college courses for credit.

This article looks at the state of community college engineering education, transfer barriers, and efforts to improve two-year college students' transfer rates into four-year college engineering programs. The terms two-year college and community college are used interchangeably throughout this article to describe postsecondary education institutions that do not offer college courses beyond the sophomore level. Four-year college refers to postsecondary education institutions that grant the baccalaureate degree.

A Popular-But Precarious-Route

At first look, it would appear that huge enrollment figures and enticing demographics would guarantee engineering programs' interest in community colleges. According to the National Community College Snapshot, compiled by the American Association of Community Colleges, 10.6 million students (5.6 million credit; 5 million noncredit) or 45 percent of all U.S. undergraduates attend the U.S.'s 967 public and 147 private two-year schools.

The schools are particularly popular with members of minority groups: 42 percent of all African-American students, 56 percent of all Hispanic students, 41 percent of all Asian/Pacific Islander students, and 54 percent of all Native-American students attend a community college. Students primarily are female (58 percent), attend part-time (63 percent), and with an average student age of 29, tend to be older that their four-year college counterparts.

But while many students consider their time at a two-year college as the first step toward a bachelor's degree, statistics show that the path is often long and quite precarious.

The odds are community college students will never transfer to a fouryear school. If they do manage to move on, it will probably take them a very long time to get their degree, if they get it at all.

This data is according to The Condition of Education 1996, the National Center for Education Statistics report on outcomes for community college students. The report tracks community college students in all academic disciplines from the beginning of the 1989-90 school year through 1995. No specific statistics for engineering majors are available. …

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