According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 45% of all U.S. undergraduates are community college students. When you take into account two specific minority groups, the results are astounding. 52% of African American undergraduates and 57% Hispanic undergraduates are enrolled at a community college. On average, attending a community college is about $6000 cheaper than attending a four-year state university. Community colleges have a huge impact on undergraduate education in the U.S.
So, could community colleges make a difference when it comes to recruiting, retaining, graduating, and sending science students to universities? Is there even a need? Why should we be concerned about sending students into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields? First of all, some of the fastest-growing jobs are STEM-related, and we’re not doing a good job of keeping up. For example, let’s say a textile plant lays hundreds of workers off because of an economic recession. Then, several years later the same plant starts hiring again, but the jobs look a little different. Instead of relying on people to actually do the work, the plant now relies on people to operate electronics to do the work. The previous workers simply aren’t qualified. The three fastest growing occupations in the country are 1) biomedical engineers; 2) network systems and data communications analysts; and 3) home health aides. Medical scientists come in at #6 and biochemists at #9. All of these are in the STEM fields. Community colleges train students to help fill these jobs.
Secondly, we are in the midst of what some experts call the sixth mass extinction. Dozens of species are going extinct every day. Freeman Tilden borrowed the following statement from a United States NPS manual: “Through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.” If students don’t go into science fields, then who will we have working on conservation issues?