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Community Colleges Vital for Diverse Engineering Work Force, Report Says

Community Colleges Vital for Diverse Engineering Work Force, Report Says
By Dee Ann Finken

How critical are community colleges in educating America’s engineers? According to many educators, the schools play a vital role, and their influence will continue to grow.
In 1999-2000, 40 percent of engineers reported having turned to a community college for help at some point in their training or career, according to a new report by the National Academy of Engineering, NAE a private nonprofit institute chartered by Congress to provide technological advice.
One in five of those engineers earned at least 10 credits at a community college before earning a degree at a four-year school, according to the report.
These data are prompting engineering educators to heed the potential of two-year schools.
“We’re looking for even more ways to smooth the pathways from community colleges to four-year institutions,” said Dr. William A. Wulf, president of the NAE, a branch of the National Academies, which also includes the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.
One of the main reasons to look more closely at the potential of two-year schools, Wulf said, is that community colleges are poised to help increase diversity in the engineering work force in the United States, which is heavily populated by White  men.
Specifically, Wulf said, between 18 and 19 percent of the engineering work force is female, six to seven percent is African American and an even smaller percent is Hispanic.
Bolstered by intervention programs, such as mentoring efforts, minorities pursuing engineering had been increasing for three decades — until the early 1990s, when the growth halted, something that Wulf and others find troubling.
“(It) seems to me that there are two possible explanations for the decline,” Wulf said. “One is that we have simply slacked off in the known interventions, things that make it more comfortable to be in engineering schools. The other is that we have gotten what we can from those interventions, and now we have to do something different.”
Dr. Mary C. Mattis, NAE’s senior program officer on diversity, said research also has shown that students who complete an associate’s degree in science before transferring generally fare better in engineering programs than those who don’t.

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