Community colleges have an opportunity to promote achievement of more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students and meet larger goals of scientific advancement and educational equity. Understanding community college students' needs and backgrounds is key to increasing students' success in STEM fields and realizing this potential. The objective of this paper is to use data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics and other sources to characterize community college students and their academic achievement and to offer equity-based approaches to increase success, particularly in STEM. Here, I document that community college students, who constitute approximately one-third of U.S. undergraduates, are a unique population with greater proportions of underrepresented STEM minorities, parents, and students requiring developmental education. They are also more likely to be older, working, part-time, low-income, and first-generation students and more likely to differ demographically from faculty. I also found lower rates of academic achievement among community college students, including lower rates of retention and STEM degree attainment with evidence of even lower achievement for STEM underrepresented groups. The data point to the need for equity-based strategies to address achievement disparities for STEM community college students, including increasing community college faculty diversity and sensitivity to diverse students' needs and experiences; adopting inclusive, active-learning pedagogies; and reforming developmental education.
CBE Life Sci Educ (CBE life sciences education)
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