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Development of a Cohort-Based Program to Strengthen Retention and Engagement of Underrepresented Community College Engineering and Computer Science Students

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Two-year College Potpourri

Tagged Division

Two-Year College

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Paper Authors


Nicholas Langhoff Skyline College

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Nicholas Langhoff is an associate professor of engineering and computer science at Skyline College in San Bruno, California. He received his M.S. degree from San Francisco State University in embedded electrical engineering and computer systems. His educational research interests include technology-enhanced instruction, online education, metacognitive teaching and learning strategies, reading apprenticeship in STEM, and the development of novel instructional equipment and curricula for enhancing academic success in science and engineering.

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Jenny Ngoc Le Skyline College

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Jenny Le serves as a Retention Specialist at Skyline College in San Bruno, California. She received her B.A. in Public Health at UC Berkeley, and her Master's in Social Work at San Jose State University. In the past five years, she has specialized in coordinating learning communities and mentorship programs, where adolescents and college students can thrive.

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Despite the growth of minority communities in America during the past few decades, trends in the underrepresentation of minorities in science and engineering have persisted. In 2015, although the total U.S. population was comprised of 13% of African Americans, they represented 5% of the science and engineering workforce. Similarly, although the percentage of Latinos in the workforce increased significantly from 3% in 1970 to 15% in 2011, they represented 6% of workers in science and engineering. Native American, Pacific Islander, Hawaiian, and Southeast Asians also remain underrepresented, making up 2% of the workers in science and engineering. Toward addressing this achievement gap, there is a growing awareness of the role that community colleges play as a crucial gateway for low-income and minority students to pursue careers in STEM. However, this gateway does not always lead to success. A recent study shows that 69% of STEM students pursuing an Associate’s Degree on the national level, changed majors or left college without completing a degree or certificate. The educational effectiveness research offices of numerous community colleges largely identify that the Calculus I course serves as a major barrier for an exceedingly high number of students (60-80%) who enter at remedial math levels. Additionally, the difficulty of persevering in STEM pathways is exemplified in the low pass rates (40-55%) for additional core major requirements, such as Introduction to Chemistry and Introduction to Programming. The lack of retention of STEM students in community colleges and the lack of growth of minority representation in science and engineering demonstrates the need to develop strategic programs and practices that increase the number and diversity of students succeeding in STEM. Toward addressing this need, in partnership with the Silicon Valley Engineering Tech Pathways (SVETP), XXXXX College developed and began piloting the Engineering & Tech Scholars Program (ETS) program, a cohort-based STEM learning community designed to address major attrition points and increase the retention and diversity of students pursuing careers in STEM. With the pilot starting in the Fall of 2016, students benefit from a cohort system that encourages the development of a strong community of peer support, accelerated math courses allowing for accelerated transfer in comparison to traditional STEM program pathways, an embedded Retention Specialist in and outside of the classroom, as well as STEM scholarships and paid summer internships opportunities to offset the high financial cost of STEM degrees. This paper details the development, implementation, and initial outcomes of the program in order contribute to the body of research of evidence-based program initiatives to increase the diversity and engagement of underrepresented communities in STEM. Quantitative and qualitative data, illustrating student success and engagement, are reviewed along with student perceptions of the program to extract key insights informing future programs and best practices for maximum impact.

Langhoff, N., & Le, J. N. (2018, June), Development of a Cohort-Based Program to Strengthen Retention and Engagement of Underrepresented Community College Engineering and Computer Science Students Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30320

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