At Foothill College‘s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) summer camps, young engineering instructors don’t use books, lectures or lab exercises. The hands-on engineering curriculum lets high schoolers fly remote-control hovercraft, build robots and strap in for helicopter simulations, all in the name of science education, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
“In high school, they get a prescribed lab, they don’t really get to be creative,” said Peter Murray, the dean of physical sciences, mathematics and engineering at Foothill. “Here, we give them a whole bunch of parts and a plan, but we don’t tell them how to do it.”
The STEM summer camps are designed to attract groups that are underrepresented in science and engineering, such as women, minorities and low-income students. About half the students are female. Because the weeklong programs are free, students of all backgrounds can participate.
In a robotics session, students were challenged to build and program a robot that could travel by itself through a cardboard maze. On the first day of camp, most robots just sat at the entrance of the maze, ramming helplessly into walls or spinning uncontrollably.
“At first it was hard because we were trying to figure it out; we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Sonia Romo, of Santa Clara, a camper at the STEM summer camps and an engineering novice.
Romo’s robot, dubbed Mr. Whiskers, made it through the maze once, but failed in a second try. The team had to “go back to the drawing board, think of all the possible bugs in the code, try a fix and test, test, test.” Mr. Whiskers made it through the maze three times by the end of the week. It ”feels really good,” Romo said.
Community college students who are just out of high school are split fairly evenly between men and women, writes Matt Reed. But older students tend to be female. For those over 25, women may outnumber men by three to one. Why Don’t Men Return to College? he asks.
Reed guesses some are locked up. (And some are serving in the military.) But that’s not enough to explain the widening gender gap.
Opportunity cost could be a factor, if men without a college education make more than un-degreed women.
. . . then the cost to a family of sending Mom back to school is less than the cost of sending Dad back to school. The male wage premium becomes a male opportunity cost penalty.
That’s plausible, writes Reed, but less so than it used to be. Wages have fallen for male workers with only a high school education.
Perhaps women are returning to college to train for health-care jobs, while men still see health care as a pink-collar job, he speculates.
Most research on gender in higher ed focuses on “how to bring more women into STEM fields, or how to improve the success rates of young men of color,” Reed writes. But it’s not just men of color who are missing on campus.
The lack of college-educated men may depress the marriage rate, writes Grace at Cost of College. In the U.S. there are 30 percent more women under 35 with a bachelor’s degree than men. It’s 47 percent in Miami and a whopping 71 percent in Detroit because black women are going so much farther in school than black men.
Low-income community college students may not get the support they need to persist and earn a credential, concludes a UCLA study, What Matters for Community College Success? Interviews with low-income female students — about half were single mothers and 80 percent were minorities — at an unnamed California college revealed taken-for-granted assumptions aren’t correct:
Assumption #1: The availability of programs equals students’ ability to access them.
Assumption #2: Students will seek support if they need it.
Assumption #3: Providing general information and advice is sufficient to aid students.
Low-income women often give up if they have trouble scheduling appointments, receive incorrect information, have unpleasant encounters with faculty or staff or fear negative judgments about their abilities, the study found.
Supplemental instructors — usually peer tutors — offer help to all students in courses with high failure rates. The SI coordinator said:
We don’t go to at-risk students. We go to at-risk classes, and that’s a big difference. … We found out that it takes that stigma away from saying, “Oh you think I’m stupid.”
Tutoring sessions are conducted in groups, giving students opportunities to network with their classmates. However, many low-income students have little time to spend on campus because they’re juggling jobs and family responsibilities.
Fifty-four percent of students born into high-income families around 1980 completed a college degree compared to 9 percent of those born into low-income families, concludes Gains and Gaps: Changing Inequality in U.S. College Entry and Completion by Martha Bailey and Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan. While low-income students improved their college graduation rate by four points compared to those born in the early 1960s, high-income students improved by 18 points, widening the gap.
Inequality in educational attainment has increased slightly for men and sharply for women since the early 1980s, researchers found.
Sex differences in educational attainment, which were small or nonexistent thirty years ago, are now substantial, with women outpacing men in every demographic group. The female advantage in educational attainment is largest in the top quartile of the income distribution.
“The gap between rich and poor in both college entry and college completion widened by almost twice as much for women as it did for men,“ writes Peter Orszag in the Washington Monthly‘s College Guide.
It can’t simply be that wealthy families directly or indirectly buy advantages for their children. If this were the case, why wouldn’t it work as well for sons as for daughters?
For those born around 1980, 70 percent of high school graduates go on to college, compared to about half of graduates born around 1960. Low-income students are much less likely to complete high school, explaining about half of the college gap. Requiring students to stay in school until age 18 would make more low-income students eligible to attend college, Orszag writes. But it won’t help much if graduates aren’t prepared for college.
College persistence and completion is much lower for low-income students.
Less than 60 percent of students enrolled full-time at four-year colleges graduate within six years, the College Board has shown, and less than 30 percent of full-time students at two-year colleges graduate within three years.
. . . Among those born around 1980, only about a third of college students from low- income families got their degrees, compared with about two- thirds of those from affluent families.
Low-income students are much more likely to start at community colleges, which have very low graduation rates.
Community college presidents average $167,000 in base pay, but blacks and Hispanics earn more, according to an American Association of Community Colleges survey. The median total compensation, which includes base salary plus other pay for fulfilling presidential duties, was $177,462.
That compares to $421,395 for public four-year college presidents in 2010-11, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. For four-year private-college presidents, the median total compensation was $385,909 in 2009.
Hispanic presidents reported the highest median base salary of any ethnic group, at $201,553, the study found. Black presidents had a median base salary of $190,000, and white presidents had a median base salary of $167,200.
. . . black and Hispanic presidents were more likely than their white counterparts to work at large colleges and in urban areas, and both factors are associated with institutions that pay higher salaries.
Female leaders of community colleges reported a median base salary of $170,000, slightly higher than male presidents, but men took a slight lead in total cash compensation.
Most presidents receive additional compensation.
Sixty-six percent said they received a college-provided car or car allowance, 58 percent said they received allowances for professional club dues, and 32 percent said they received college-provided housing or a housing allowance. Only 15 percent reported that their spouse or partner also received allowances.
Some 75 percent of community-college presidents plan to retire in the next 10 years.
Universities are turning to community colleges in the search for potential STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students who are black, Hispanic or female, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Using a $2.6 million Gates Foundation grant, the University of Maryland Baltimore County will pilot a national model for increasing the number of community college students who go on to earn bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. The City Colleges of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago wil use a Kresge Foundation grant to help minority males transfer and earn STEM bachelor’s degrees. Mount Holyoke College is helping female community college students earn a STEM bachelor’s, with a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
Transfer students in STEM fields face the same problems any community college transfer might face: courses that don’t line up, credits that don’t transfer, trouble adjusting to the class size or format, a lack of a community feeling. Those problems, however, are often more acute for STEM students. After all, 500-person lecture classes are more common in science departments, and requirements are often more stringent in those fields, too; an engineering student who takes the wrong class in his first year at community college will likely have a harder time finishing a bachelor of science degree in four years than an English student would have with a bachelor of arts.
Becky Wai-Ling Packard, a professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke, interviewed 30 Massachusetts community college students in STEM fields before and after they transferred to a four-year institution. Twenty-six transferred and 22 persisted in STEM majors after the first semester.
Most of the students reported positive feelings about their community college experiences, citing inspiring professors, peer support, and helpful advising as reasons for their success. Once the students got to their four-year colleges, however, sentiment turned negative. Most students reported struggling in at least one course, and said that compared to their community college courses, the four-year classes often moved at a faster pace, were more difficult, and provided less support. The content in the courses didn’t always line up, either. One student said she had taken the first semester of organic chemistry at her community college, but the second semester course at her four-year college assumed knowledge of things she hadn’t learned, so even though she had earned credit for the first semester of organic chemistry, she ended up having to take it over again.
Mount Holyoke’s STEM transfer initiative provides scholarships, advising and mentoring to help transfers complete a STEM degree. Students meet with science faculty members regularly and go through a special orientation.
After 14 years as a homemaker, Catherine Clarke left her husband because of domestic violence. With four children to support, she enrolled at Harper College in Illinois, taking advantage of help for single parents and displaced homemakers, reports Community College Times. The college’s Rita and John Canning Women’s Program teaches test-taking and study skills, provides career counseling and helps women build their self-esteem and networks.
With the help of scholarships and grants, Clarke graduated from Harper with a 4.0 grade-point average and went on to Elmhurst College. She hope to work as a counselor.
“When you look at the risk factors for people not being able to graduate college, low-income single moms have just about all of them,” said Meegan Bassett, senior policy associate for Women Employed. However, single mothers also are highly motivated, she said.
Recruiting community college women into STEM majors isn’t rocket science, according to Donna Milgram, who’s studied the issue at eight California community colleges. Personal encouragement from instructors or counselors is needed to get women to consider predominantly male science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, Milgram, executive director of the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science (IWITTS), told Community College Times.
. . . women need to see—in posters, videos and career events with women actually working in STEM disciplines—what a typical day looks like for women employed as technicians in STEM workplaces.
Young women “need to understand what kind of jobs they can get,” Milgram says.
Feminizing STEM role models can be a turn-off, at least for middle-school girls, concludes a University of Michigan study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. From Ed Week‘s Inside School Research:
In the first experiment, 144 6th and 7th grade girls read articles about three successful female university students. In some cases these were overtly “girly,” wearing pink clothes and make-up and saying they like to read fashion magazines, while in other cases the students wore dark clothes and glasses and simply said they liked to read. The role models also either were specifically described as successful in a STEM field, math, engineering or biochemistry, or were reported as generally successful—for example called a “freshman star.”
The researchers found girls who read about the overtly female role models actually reduced the students’ reported interest, perceived ability and future expectations in math, and they showed less interest in taking math classes in high school and college than girls who read about role models in more neutral clothing or with non-STEM-specific achievements.
“Submitting STEM role models to Pygmalion-style feminine makeovers may do more harm than good,” the researchers concluded.
Fewer women are earning associate degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, despite increasing demand for workers with STEM skills, according to a new report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. In 10 years, the percentage of women earning STEM degrees at community colleges has fallen by 25 percent.
Only 28 percent of STEM degrees awarded by community colleges went to women in 2007, according to the report. That means women are missing out on high-demand, high-wage jobs, notes Community Colleges Times.
Although women comprise nearly half of the labor force, only one in four STEM jobs is held by a woman.
. . . Some of the fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. are in the STEM fields, with employment expected to increase at a faster rate than the labor market as a whole. IWPR noted that while overall employment is predicted to increase by 10 percent between 2008 and 2018, some STEM areas are expected to expand by 20 to 30 percent.
STEM graduates with associate degrees can pursue well-paid careers as environmental engineering technicians, biological technicians and computer support specialists, the report said. Overall, women in STEM jobs earn a third more than comparable women in non-STEM fields, according to a Commerce Department study.
STEM certificates also can be valuable in the job market, but the share of women earning certificates in STEM fields decreased by half between 2000–2001 and 2008–2009.
Community colleges should encourage women, especially low-income women and mothers, to pursue STEM certificates and degrees by stressing they’ll earn much more than in traditionally female jobs, such as child care and home health care, the report recommends.
While young men will take any job they can get, young women are passing up dead-end jobs to seek more education, reports the New York Times. “The next generation of women may have a significant advantage over their male counterparts,” economists say.
“It doesn’t surprise me that in a poor economy women are ramping up their schooling,” said Heather Boushey, an economist at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research organization. “The real question is: Why aren’t more men doing that too?”
Of course, women who leave work for college are gambling their investment will pay off. The Times‘ lead anecdote, Laura Baker, quit her Starbucks barista job to pursue a master’s degree in strategic communications at a private university. She hopes to work at a nonprofit.
Including the loans that financed her undergraduate education at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, she will complete her master’s program next year owing about $200,000 in debt.
“I have to have faith that I will eventually get a good job that pays enough to pay my living expenses and pay back my loans,” she said, “and hopefully make me happy in the process.”
Communications specialists with a master’s start at $37,500 a year, estimates PayScale. Nonprofits tend to pay less.
It’s crazy to borrow $200,000 for a communications degree, adds Cost of College. The FinAid loan calculation website estimates a debtor who spends 10 percent of gross monthly income on repaying student loans will need an income of $213, 044.40 to repay $200,000 in student loans. “If you use 15% of your gross monthly income to repay the loan, you will need an annual salary of only $142,029.60, but you may experience some financial difficulty.”
Savvier women are enrolling in community colleges. State budget cuts have pushed up tuition, but it remains a good deal.
Most new students are women at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, one of the country’s fastest-growing community colleges. “We now have 6,000 students on a waiting list because we didn’t have the resources to offer more classes,” President Stephen Scott told the Times.