Poster Paper: The Two-Year Journey through the STEM Pipeline: Examining the Institutional Contexts for Community College Students

Saturday, November 5, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Felisha Herrera, San Diego State University and Anthony Villarreal, Claremont Graduate University

The shortage of students trained in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM) calls for a better understanding of the critical role of the multiple student pathways across various institution types and sectors of postsecondary education, particularly for underrepresented students. Community colleges provide several pathways and linkages to the STEM pipeline and are key access points to postsecondary education for underrepresented racial minorities (URM), specifically African Americans, American Indians, and Latinos. While URM students enter college with interests in STEM fields at equal rates in comparison to their peers, too few students from underrepresented backgrounds are successfully navigating the STEM educational pipeline as noted by the low persistence and attainment rates for URMs (Huang, Taddese, & Walter, 2000). Furthermore, the assessment of STEM outcomes is complex and often limited by our investigations being isolated within the context of one institution and does not acknowledge the realities of student mobility and transitions across institutions as key factors in STEM degree pathways. College pathways are rarely straightforward, particularly in an age of higher education where students are increasingly mobilizing their education. Movement across institutions occurs throughout students’ academic trajectories when students transfer and advance through their academic paths. Community college students are the most likely to attend multiple institutions and have a higher number of transitions over their academic careers (NSCRC, 2012). Nearly one third of all college students nationally change institutions at least once (and up to three times) within five years (NSCRC, 2012) and scholars have identified more than a dozen different types of multi-institutional attendance (Sylvia, et al., 2010). Students’ trajectories are complex and are often impacted by multiple institutional contexts. Therefore, accurately examining STEM outcomes requires the need to account for the impact of all postsecondary institutions of attendance.

This study seeks to examine STEM pathways for historically underrepresented racial minority (URM) students who began at community colleges, with a specific emphasis on student mobility across multiple institutions. The conceptual model for this study is informed by Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT), which seeks to explain the processes that occur within career development by examining three interlocking models of interest development, career choice, and performance (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994). SCCT is a useful framework for deconstructing and understanding how people make career decisions, develop interests, and deal with the barriers that arise in their educational and career pathways. The SCCT framework informs the conceptual model and the following research questions: While controlling for student mobility, student characteristics, experiences, and institutional contexts influence STEM persistence and degree attainment among students who began college at a two-year institution? Multilevel modeling is used to explore a national, longitudinal sample of students who began postsecondary education at two-year public colleges and pursued majors in STEM fields. Findings from this study help to solidify a better understanding of the student characteristics, experiences, and institutional contexts that influence community college students’ persistence and attainment in STEM. Connecting these results to recent policy and national efforts, implications for education administrators, practitioners, and researchers are highlighted.