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Summary: In response to a joint request from the National Science Foundation’s Division on Undergraduate Education and Advanced Technological Education, the National Academies submitted a proposal to conduct a planning meeting and subsequent education summit on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education in 2-year higher education institutions and the evolving relationships between 2- and 4-year institutions. A thorough look at the status, promise, and opportunities of community colleges and their contributions to STEM education is long overdue. The roles of community colleges in STEM have changed profoundly in the last 15 years. It is time to examine these changes and their effects on community colleges (both students and institutions), 4-year higher education institutions, secondary education, and the workforce (through both career and technical education).
A two-day expert planning meeting was held in August, 2011 to examine ways in which the National Academies might help elucidate and communicate to the higher education and policy communities 1) the changing dynamics between 2- and 4-year colleges and universities in STEM education; 2) issues and policies that are inhibiting or facilitating 2-to 4-year articulation; 3) potentially conflicting roles of community colleges in preparing STEM majors for transfer and to enter the STEM workforce; 4) programmatic, economic, and intellectual opportunities that could benefit students, faculty, and 2- and 4-year institutions from more strategic cross-institutional relationships between them; and 5) the roles of community colleges both in serving as models of excellence for STEM education in an increasingly global economy and in educating a globally prepared technical workforce.
The planning meeting also began to elucidate details for a day-long summit to be held in 2011 that will build on the Summit on Community Colleges that was hosted by Dr. Jill Biden at the White House on October 5, 2010. This summit will allow experts and critical stakeholders to more specifically address issues in STEM education at 2- and 4-year institutions of higher education. The summit is likely to address such critical issues as: the changing dynamics of interactions between 2- and 4-year colleges and universities; the role of STEM in expanding access to the 21st century workforce and broadening access, participation, and success rates of students from underrepresented populations; improving integration of courses and programs between 2- and 4-year institutions; and community colleges’ capacity to accommodate growing numbers of prospective students. The Academies will produce a summary of this summit that will be broadly distributed.
Intellectual Merit: The intellectual merit of this initiative lies in the National Academies’ unique position as a neutral convener which can bring together a broad spectrum of education experts, policymakers, representatives from business and industry, and other stakeholders who rarely or never communicate with each other. Together these stakeholders will examine evidence about the roles and contributions of community colleges to the nation’s workforce, economy, and a more STEM-literate citizenry. Based on these conversations at the planning meeting and summit, they can develop more strategic approaches to enhance the roles of community colleges in STEM and better capitalize on the changing relationships and dynamics between 2- and 4-year institutions of higher education.
Broader Impacts: This initiative’s broader impacts will be manifest both in the connections that planning meeting and summit participants make with representatives from other parts of the community and from the discussions that ensue in these meetings. Broader impacts will also result from the publication, broad distribution, and strategic discussions that will be planned following the summit in venues such as annual meetings of the American Association of Community Colleges and other higher education organizations, STEM disciplinary societies, many of the Academies’ participating standing boards and committees with interests in the roles of community colleges, and additional sessions that might be hosted by the NSF and other state- and federal agencies. In addition, the external evaluator will work with the planning committee to develop evaluation protocols that will allow for future assessment of actions and activities that summit participants may develop as a result of their engagement with this initiative.