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Developmental Mathematics and the Community College STEM Pipeline

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Enhancing Success/Peristence at Two-Year Colleges

Tagged Division

Two Year College Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.432.1 - 24.432.13

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Paper Authors

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Valerie Lundy-Wagner Teachers College, Columbia University

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Developmental Mathematics and the Community College STEM pipelineSince community colleges enroll nearly half of all postsecondary students, are a low-cost option,and afford academically underprepared students remediation, they are well-situated to contributeto both expanding and diversifying the STEM workforce (Carnevale, Smith & Meldon, 2011;Langdon et al., 2011). However, only 36% of community college students complete a credentialwithin six years; and the rate of transfer is also relatively low (Hoachlander, Sikora, Horn &Carroll, 2003). Among students pursuing the STEM fields at community colleges, completionand transfer rates are also disappointing (National Research Council, 2012).Academic preparedness and socioeconomic status are major barriers for access to engineeringoverall (e.g., Lundy-Wagner, Veenstra, Orr, Ohland & Long, forthcoming), an issue especiallyrelevant for community college students. In fact a national survey determined that nearly 70% ofall students entering community colleges took one or more remedial course (NCES, 2013). Yet,recent work (Sullivan et al., 2012) concludes that community colleges are a viable option forunderrepresented minority students that transfer into engineering bachelor’s degree programs.Despite this, whether and how academic preparedness is related to pursuit of engineering orother STEM field credentials at the community college level remains largely unknown.In fact, much of the work on developmental/remedial education is mixed. Bettinger and Long(2005, 2009) found positive effects of math remediation; in other work, the results showed noimpact (e.g., Calcagno & Long, 2008; McFarlin, 2009); and recent research found small positiveand negative effects (Hughes & Scott-Clayton, 2011). Even in light of these contributions, theresults provide little, if any insight postsecondary STEM pathways.To better understand the relationship between developmental education and community collegeSTEM students, a study of one state’s public community college students was conducted. Theprimary research question guiding this work was: How common is developmental educationcourse-taking among students starting or completing STEM credentials at community colleges inNorth Carolina? The data used for this analysis include administrative data, and includeinformation on 4 cohorts over an 8 year period.There are at least two important findings. First, the relationship between STEM credentialcompletion and developmental mathematics course-taking varies considerably by field/program.For example, among students completing credentials in Engineering Science none had everfailed a developmental mathematics course. However, approximately 20% had taken adevelopmental mathematics course and passed. In Computer and Information Science, nearly33% had taken and passed, and 10% had taken and failed a developmental mathematics course.Second, the role of developmental mathematics education among ethnic/racial, socioeconomic,and gender groups pursuing STEM varied as well, primarily by institution and program of study.However, such factors are contextual, and suggest a regional approach to characterizing two yearprograms in STEM, and specifically Engineering Science transfer and Engineering Technologyprograms. These and other findings from the North Carolina analysis have importantimplications for recruitment and retention of students in STEM from community colleges, andconsideration for how to minimize or overcome inadequate academic preparedness.

Lundy-Wagner, V. (2014, June), Developmental Mathematics and the Community College STEM Pipeline Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana.

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