Addressing STEM Underrepresentation: The Community College Presidents’ Initiative

Dr. George R. BoggsDr. George R. BoggsAccording to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, our nation is facing a significant need to develop adequate talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields to ensure economic strength, security, global competitiveness, and environmental health. The National Science Board estimates that there are currently more than 16 million skilled technical jobs requiring an associate degree or similar level qualification, and the number of jobs requiring substantial STEM expertise has grown nearly 34% over the past decade.

In addition to projected STEM labor shortages, there are significant racial and gender disparities in the technical workforce. African Americans make up 11% of the U.S. workforce, but only 7% of all STEM workers. Hispanics are 17% of the workforce but only 7% of all STEM workers. Sixty-nine percent of all STEM workers are white. Women are underrepresented in several STEM occupations, particularly in computer jobs and engineering. These racial and gender inequalities have significant income implications. Even among workers with similar education, STEM workers earn significantly more. At a time when we need to address STEM labor shortages, we cannot afford to leave segments of our population behind.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is supporting a strategy to address these issues through the newly funded Community College Presidents’ Initiative in STEM Education (CCPI-STEM). Community colleges, serving the most diverse student body in higher education, are a fertile ground for effective diversification of the STEM workforce. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 51% percent of community college students taking college credit classes are students of color.

NSF’s Advanced Technology Education (ATE) program has a track record of supporting community colleges, providing $1.11 billion in support over 25 years. While community colleges’ attention to STEM education has increased over the years, effective use of available government support is still inadequate to address the workforce shortage. Only 22% of eligible public community colleges are taking advantage of the NSF ATE funding, a percentage we hope to increase significantly.

CCPI-STEM intends to galvanize and support community college leaders (presidents, trustees, vice presidents, deans, and lead faculty) to prepare successful ATE proposals and to implement and sustain ATE projects. CCPI-STEM will build on the strength and successes of other ATE programs and is collaborating with the premiere national associations that support and advocate for community colleges: the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), and the League for Innovation in the Community College (League).

CCPI-STEM will be working through Regional Networks (RNs) comprising presidents and senior administrators from community colleges in six to eight geographic regions. The RN partners will also include representatives of local and regional business and industry and members of the professional associations.

An important outcome of CCPI-STEM will be the creation of webinars and digital and print resources such as a Funding Guide, Infrastructure Guide, Models that Work, Economic Impact Guide, and Exemplars. A CCPI-STEM Economic Resource Guide will showcase successful community college-business and industry partnerships and will provide recommendations to strengthen these programs. Business and industry representatives will be encouraged to co-present and co-author publications that advance STEM education programs.

An Annual CCPI-STEM Summit will provide opportunities for showcasing academe-business programs in different regions and potentially strengthen these relationships. Examples of collaborations that enable the participation of small and rural colleges will be included. Representatives of business and industry will participate in the annual summit to strengthen the synergistic relationships.

CCPI-STEM will develop curricular modules focused on STEM education and funding opportunities to be used in community college leadership doctoral programs and leadership institutes. A CCPI-STEM Scholars program will select and support graduate students with a stipend for community college STEM and workforce education research. The CCPI-STEM website, at https://ccpi-stem.org, provides current information about the project.

Dr. Clayton Railey serves as executive vice president and provost of Prince George’s Community College; Dr. Charlene Dukes is president emerita of Prince George’s Community College; Dr. George Boggs is president emeritus of Palomar College and president and CEO Emeritus of the American Association of Community Colleges; Dr. Vera Zdravkovich is academic vice president emerita of Prince George’s Community College; and Dr. Elizabeth Hawthorne is a distinguished Association for Computing Machinery scholar.

The Roueche Center Forum is co-edited by Drs. John E. Roueche and Margaretta B. Mathis of the John E. Roueche Center for Community College Leadership, Department of Educational Leadership, College of Education, Kansas State University.

This article originally appeared in the April 28, 2022 edition of Diverse.