Notwithstanding the current economic situation, community colleges are increasingly held to be the salvation for underrepresented first generation students who desire to earn a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field. At the same time, not much is known about the progress of these students through a community college or the particular issues around STEM education in such institutions. Most community college research focuses on issues common to all community college students rather than those of STEM students. This symposium seeks to clarify aspects of what is known about STEM in community colleges through a global literature review of the structural aspects of community colleges which impinges on STEM major completion and transfer. This overview is augmented by two different perspectives on STEM achievement in California Community Colleges. The first examines the population entering and persisting in STEM majors in the state’s largest community college which emphasizes the various difficulties STEM students face in addition to those of underrepresented first generation students. The second is an analysis of MESA, the most successful transfer program for underrepresented first generation STEM students in the state. The goal of this symposium is to illuminate the real obstacles on the student STEM pathway and the points of assistance that can be found on it. The intention is to clarify the confusion in policy discussions about what community colleges can actually attain in contributing to STEM achievement.
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