Preparing Women and Minorities for Careers in Math and Science: The Role of Community Colleges. ERIC Digest.

ERIC Identifier: ED333943
Publication Date: 1991-06-00 
Author: Quimbita, Grace 
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA. 

Preparing Women and Minorities for Careers in Math and Science: The Role of Community Colleges. ERIC Digest. 

Several recent studies of the condition of math and science education at all levels have generated extreme concern about a predicted shortfall of as many as 560,000 scientists and engineers over the next twenty years, and a shortage of engineering faculty that is already being felt (National Science Board, 1986; Task Force, 1988; McDonnell, Oakes, and Shavelson, 1989; Conciatore, 1989). One of these, the National Science Board's report, Undergraduate Science, Mathematics and Engineering Education, considers women, Blacks, and Hispanics to be a largely untapped pool with great potential for increasing the scientific workforce of the nation. 

The need for greater participation of minorities and women in science and math careers, coupled with the fact that nearly half of all minority college students attend a community college underscores the importance of establishing two-year college programs for the recruitment and retention of talented minority and women students in math and science disciplines. Community colleges already play a significant part in educating minority students who go on to earn engineering and science doctorates; 11.8% of all minorities who earned doctorates in engineering in 1987 were graduates of two-year institutions (Conciatore, 1989, p12). However, much remains to be done. 

This digest provides an overview of the literature on the community colleges' special efforts to prepare underrepresented groups for careers in math and sciences. Highlighting the scope and strategies of exemplary programs, the digest explores projects and services at community colleges, and linkages between community colleges, elementary and secondary schools, and four-year schools. 


In A Pilot Study on Needs in the Sciences in Community Colleges, Banks and Railsback (1988) asked community college representatives about ways that more students could be encouraged to enroll in science, mathematics, and engineering technology programs. In addition to other ideas, such as vocational counseling, internships, and scholarships, respondents supported articulation programs with high schools and junior high schools; on-campus events for high school students; tech-prep curricula with high schools; and programs to bring high school faculty to campus. 

Delgado Community College (1989) in Louisiana provides one example of a successful secondary-postsecondary collaboration. Delgado runs a Math, Science and Technology Summer Youth Enrichment Program for the Orleans Parish School system. Minority junior high students who have demonstrated above average abilities in math and science are invited to participate in specially designed three-week summer mini-courses. Participants are introduced to the basics in computers, robotics, electrical systems, radio communications, and biomedical technology. The program's goals are to enhance the students' problem-solving and analytical skills; expose them to real-life science, math, and technology through field trips and speakers; offer hands-on computer experiences; and help student evaluate their career options. Interviews with the participating students confirmed that their interest in science and technology had been stimulated. 


Almost half of the 91 colleges surveyed by Banks and Railsback offered special programs to encourage women and/or minorities to enroll in science and math programs and help them succeed. The literature indicates that such programs tend to focus on one or more of the following goals: 

*ensuring that students have the basic skills needed for success in college-level math and science courses 

*providing social and academic support networks 

*helping students and their families afford the costs of college through scholarships, financial aid, savings programs, and other means 

*providing women and minority role models and mentors from within the college and the community 

*altering pedagogical approaches and curricula to accommodate students' learning styles better. 

For example, Washtenaw Community College in Michigan has implemented a program to upgrade the basic skills of women and minority students and provide the academic support needed for them to succeed in high technology occupational training programs (Leach and Roberts, 1988). Counseling, peer support, financial aid, and student advocacy are important components for ensuring student persistence. 

Greater Hartford Community College in Connecticut also offers a developmental science-oriented program for minority students (Williams and Cox, 1991). The Pre-Nursing program is a full-time, 15-week, non-credit, pass/fail remedial sequence offered each spring to prepare students to enter the associate degree nursing program. Pre-Nursing includes courses in communication skills, mathematics, science, and an introduction to nursing. The students learn to overcome cultural barriers, improve decision making, and value academic achievement. Financial support is provided for students throughout the pre-nursing and associate degree programs. 

American River College in the Los Rios Community College District in California implemented the Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement/Minority Engineering Program (MESA/MEP) to serve as a bridge between high school MESA programs and university MEP's (Lee, 1990). MESA/MEP activities include scholarships, awards, and honors; leadership development efforts; recruitment of Black, Hispanic, and Native American students; enrichment programs, such as tours to universities and resume workshops; and support services, including weekly meetings, study halls, and class clustering. 

Evergreen Valley College's ENLACE program involves an all-Hispanic team of educators and community members in efforts to improve the retention and matriculation of Hispanic students (Chavez and Maestes-Flores, 1991). Because mathematical skills lie at the heart of student success in the general education/transfer curriculum, ENLACE provides students with individualized, nontraditional counseling, core mathematics courses, and contact with Hispanic mentors from such professions as engineering, computer science, medicine, accounting, and business management. These professionals are invited to class to lecture on applied mathematics, explain how math relates to their professional area, and participate in small-group problem-solving sessions with students. 


The Task Force on Women, Minorities, and the Handicapped in Science and Technology has recommended the formation of partnerships between two-year colleges with significant minority enrollments and four-year institutions as another means of involving underrepresented groups in scientific and technical fields. Such linkages include: 

* program and course articulation 

* recruitment and outreach campaigns from the university to the community college 

* programs to afford two-year college students hands-on experience with the more sophisticated and specialized equipment found in university labs. 

An example of this last type of program is the Community College Summer Research Program involving the Los Angeles Community College District, Glendale Community College, and Occidental College, a four-year liberal arts college (Devarics, 1989; Alexander, 1989). Since 1984, Occidental has offered two-year college students, mostly minorities and women, the opportunity to engage in research on a for-pay basis. Paired with one Occidental student, each community college student performs experiments related to an Occidental professor's principal research in such fields as chemistry, biology, and geology. The founder of the research program, Chris Craney, contends that a relationship exists between students doing research and deciding what aspect of science to enter. All 30 of the students who had participated in the program as of November 1989 had gone on to complete degrees at Occidental or other four-year colleges. 


Community colleges are in a unique position to increase the number of people in the scientific talent pool and to diversify its ethnic and gender composition. Doing so will require a serious commitment to recruiting talented students, encouraging them to pursue science and math careers, providing necessary facilities and academic services, and ensuring a smooth transition from the two-year to four-year college. 


Alexander, Donnell. "Research Program Lures Community College Students." Los Angeles Times, Glendale Section, p1 part 9, June 29, 1989. 

Banks, Debra; Railsback, Gary. A Pilot Study of Needs in the Sciences in Community Colleges. Los Angeles, CA: Center for the Study of Community Colleges, 1988. 33pp. (ED 297 801) 

Chavez, Mauro; Maestes-Flores, Margarita. "Minority Student Retention: ENLACE." New Directions for Community Colleges; v19 n1 p63-67 Summer 1991. 

Conciatore, Jacqueline. "Educators Look to Minorities and Women to Fill Engineering Pipeline." Community College Week; v2 n7 p12 November 13, 1989. 

Delgado Community College. Delgado Community College/Sears-Roebuck Keeping America Working. Math, Science and Technology Summer Youth Enrichment Program. New Orleans: Author, 1989. 24pp. (ED 313 076) 

Devarics, Charles. "Occidental Program Promotes Science for Community College Students." Community College Week; v2 n7 p11 November 13, 1989. 

Leach, Juliette D.; Roberts, Shirley I. "A Soft Technology: Recruiting and Retaining Women and Minorities in High Tech Programs." Community, Technical, and Junior College Journal; v59 n2 p34-37 Oct.-Nov. 1988. 

Lee, Beth S.; And Others. MESA/MEP at American River College. Year One Evaluation Report. Sacramento, CA: Los Rios Community College District, Office of Planning and Research, 1990. 45 pp. (ED 319 472) 

McDonnell, L.M.; Oakes, J.; Shavelson, R.J. Indicators for Monitoring Mathematics and Science Education: A Sourcebook. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp., 1989. 

National Science Board. Undergraduate Science, Mathematics and Engineering Education. Washington, DC: Author, 1986. 67 pp. (ED 272 398) 

Task Force on Women, Minorities, and the Handicapped in Science and Technology. Changing America: The New Face of Science and Engineering. Final Report. Washington, DC: Author, 1989. 47 pp. (ED 317 386) 

Williams, Ronald A.; Cox, Mary Anne. "Minority Student Recruitment: A Connecticut Model." New Directions for Community Colleges; v19 n1 p39-46 Summer 1991. 

Library Reference Search Web Directory
This site is (c) 2003-2005.  All rights reserved.

Please note that this site is privately owned and is in no way related to any Federal agency or ERIC unit.  Further, this site is using a privately owned and located server. This is NOT a government sponsored or government sanctioned site. ERIC is a Service Mark of the U.S. Government. This site exists to provide the text of the public domain ERIC Documents previously produced by ERIC.  No new content will ever appear here that would in any way challenge the ERIC Service Mark of the U.S. Government.

More To Explore