by Dr. Vera Zdravkovich, Dr. Clayton A. Railey, Dr. Elizabeth K. Hawthorne, Dr. Charlene Mickens Dukes, and George R. Boggs, Ph.D.
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In an increasingly global society and economy, education and training beyond compulsory primary and secondary education — especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) — is essential to our nation’s competitiveness and the standard of living of our people. Community colleges, in particular, play an essential role in preparing the nation’s workforce. Historically, they have responded to the needs of local economies, working closely with industry, government, and other education sectors to develop curricula and programs. Despite higher education’s successful track record in responding to workforce needs, the nation is faced with a significant challenge: skilled technical job openings in the US are estimated to exceed the skilled technical labor force by 1.3 percentage points or about 3.4 million.
It has never been more important than today to prepare a diverse STEM-capable US workforce that leverages the talents of all segments of our population. African Americans make up 11 percent of the nation’s workforce, but only 7 percent of all STEM workers. Hispanics are 17 percent of the country’s workforce but only 7 percent of all STEM workers. Sixty-nine percent of US STEM workers are White. Women are underrepresented in several STEM occupations, particularly in computer jobs and engineering. The 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.
Community colleges, serving the most diverse student body in higher education, can play a critical role in effective diversification of the STEM workforce. Fifty-one percent of community college students taking college credit classes are students of color.
The Advanced Technological Education Program
STEM programs can be expensive to offer, but community colleges have a partner ready to provide support. The National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technology Education (ATE) program has a track record of supporting community colleges to meet the nation’s STEM workforce needs, providing $1.11 billion. in support over 25 years. While community colleges’ attention to STEM education has increased over the years, their effective use of available government support is still not adequate to address the workforce shortage. As of February 2022, the ATE program had 390 grant awards supporting 206 distinct community colleges. Only 22 percent of eligible public community colleges are taking advantage of the NSF ATE funding opportunity.
The newly launched Community College Presidents’ Initiative in STEM education (CCPI-STEM) intends to galvanize and support community college leaders (presidents, trustees, vice presidents, deans, and lead faculty) to prepare ATE proposals and to implement and sustain ATE projects. CCPI-STEM will build on the strength and successes of programs such as Mentor-Connect, Mentor Links, Mentor Up, Fortifying Community College Education-ATE (FORCCE-ATE), and Pathways to Innovation (PTI) that educate faculty about ATE funding opportunities. and provide ongoing support in proposal development. Collaboration with Project Vision, a project designed to broaden the diversity of institutions supported by ATE, will benefit both projects by sharing lessons and expertise. CCPI-STEM is also collaborating with the premier 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 providing information to community colleges through Regional Networks (RNs) comprised of presidents and senior administrators from the community colleges in six to eight geographic regions. The initial four are the Western Region, chaired by Dr. Frank Chong, President of Santa Rosa Community College in California; the Midwest Region, chaired by Dr. Dan Phelan, President of Jackson College in Michigan; the Mid-Atlantic Region chaired by Dr. Anne Kress, President of Northern Virginia Community College; and the Southeast Region, chaired by Dr. Ed Massey, President Emeritus of Indian River College in Florida. Additional regions will be developed as the project progresses. The RN partners will also include representatives of local and regional business and industry and members of professional associations.
Resources, Publications, and Dissemination
An important outcome of CCPI-STEM will be the creation of 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. It will serve as a resource and provide examples of model partnership programs. These publications will be widely disseminated through various events and conferences as well as being available from the project website, spreading the benefit and potential impact. Once created, these resources will be regularly updated to maintain currency and relevance.
CCPI-STEM plans to develop a schedule of webinars and meetings to encourage topic-specific dialogue in the RNs. Building a cohesive community in different regions, while challenging and requiring consistent communication, stimulation, and resources, is well worth the effort to introduce community college leadership to the power of grant development and acquisition in sustainable innovative and transformative efforts to build the STEM pipeline.
Effective academe-business partnership programs regionally and locally will be promoted and shared through webinars and meetings. Regions will be encouraged to include business and industry representatives as partners in their network. 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 strengthening 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.
Regional Economic Impact
ATE programs at community colleges have a significant positive impact on the communities served by the colleges. CCPI-STEM intends to contract with an external organization to quantify the ATE economic impact of selected RN affiliate colleges. The selection of the institutions, programs, impact measures, and other characteristics of this study will be determined as the project progresses.
CCPI-STEM will be developing curricular modules focused on STEM education and funding opportunities intended to be used in community college leadership doctoral programs and leadership institutes. These materials will address the role of community college leadership in ATE proposal development and in the implementation and evaluation of funded programs. They will provide examples of successful colleges and how they have been able to leverage grant funds to expand and improve their STEM curricula; improve student enrollment and completion in STEM disciplines; address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and strengthen partnerships with local STEM businesses, public schools, and transfer universities. The modules will also provide links to valuable resources. The materials will be written with the understanding that many community college leaders may not have STEM backgrounds. The process for the curriculum materials development will include a curriculum development team (CDT) that will give direction and work closely with the curriculum materials developer. Members of the CCPI-STEM National Advisory Board, Drs. Annette Parker, Sylvia Jenkins, and David Harrison have agreed to be on the CDT. CCPI-STEM leadership will work closely with universities that offer leadership in community college programs as well as with faculty that teach or direct these programs, who will be willing to pilot test these materials in their courses and write an in-depth review. A curriculum review team (CRT) made up of representatives from community college leadership programs has been identified and enthusiastically agreed to be the reviewers of the newly developed modules. The instructional materials will be revised based on the CRT recommendations.
CCPI-STEM also intends to establish the CCPI-STEM Fellows program for graduate students who are selected and supported with a stipend for their research that is related to STEM and workforce education in community colleges. The CCPI-STEM Fellows will be expected to present at different events, publish their research findings, share with the broader community, and pursue teaching or serving in a leadership capacity at a community college.
National Advisory Board
CCPI-STEM has a strong National Advisory Board (NAB) that includes three presidents of community colleges known for their experience with ATE projects: Drs. Sylvia Jenkins, Moraine Valley Community College, Annette Parker, South Central College, and David Harrison, Columbus State Community College. The NAB also includes the Presidents and CEOs of national organizations, Jee Hang Lee, ACCT, and Dr. Rufus Glasper, The League for Innovation in the Community College. The NAB membership will also include business and industry representatives.
Co-principal investigators of CCPI-STEM are Clayton Railey, Executive Vice President and Provost of Prince George’s Community College; Charlene Dukes, President Emerita of Prince George’s Community College; George Boggs, President Emeritus of Palomar College and President and CEO Emeritus of the American Association of Community Colleges; Vera Zdravkovich, Academic Vice President Emerita of Prince George’s Community College; and Elizabeth Hawthorne, Distinguished Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Scholar. Elizabeth Teles, the former co-lead of the NSF ATE program is the Senior Advisor. The project evaluation will be led by Blake Urbach, MS, Principal Consultant of Preferred Program Evaluations.
The CCPI-STEM website provides important current information about the project, a calendar of events and meetings, shows the regional networks, and lists current ATE awards by region. Interested individuals are encouraged to follow the development of CCPI-STEM on the project website. Questions about the initiative or suggestions can be addressed to the principal investigators, members of the National Advisory Board, or Regional Network Chairs through the project website.