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To broaden its impact among two-year colleges, the National Science Foundation (NSF) asked community college educators to explain the challenges they face when applying for grants and suggest emerging issues the NSF should consider funding.
“Frankly, I don’t think we’ve heard enough from you in the past and we want to have more dialogue,” Barbara Olds told about 300 community college educators attending a meeting the NSF convened this month in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
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“We welcome your input” about the grants application process, said Olds, acting deputy assistant director and senior advisor for the NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources.
"We know just how important the community college experience is for what happens in all areas, and particularly science, technology, engineering, and math," said NSF Deputy Director Cora Marrett. She also asked community college educators to share their insights on the revision of two merit review criteria by sending comments to her online by July 14.
Reaching out to two-year colleges
NSF leaders reported that 402 NSF grants with a total value of $350 million go to community colleges. The agency recently added a teacher preparation program that will include community colleges, and it has requested $100 million for the Advanced Technological Education program, which Olds referred to as the "gem" in the agency's community college portfolio.
However, as Katherine Denniston, acting director of NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education pointed out, even if each of those grants represented an individual community college (which they do not because some colleges have more than one grant), it would mean that only about 25 percent of the 1,200 community colleges in the U.S. have an NSF grant.
"We want to fix that. We want to make our support available" to more community college faculty, she said.
Two-year college representatives at the conference included more than 250 current and past NSF principal investigators and several educators who have received mentoring through NSF initiatives, such as AACC's MentorLinks program. They participated in small-group, facilitated discussions; presented results of grant-funded projects; and heard about NSF funding opportunities and strategies for disseminating, sustaining, and evaluating NSF-funded initiatives.
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Participants identified the following challenges for community colleges in submitting for NSF grants:
A focus on STEM
Educators at the meeting said that most of these issues can be addressed if college leaders make grant acquisition and management a priority and provide professional development and administrative support for this goal.
The key science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) issues that participants suggested for additional NSF support include:
While the NSF has supported outreach to K-12 and some bridge programs for underprepared students, it has not previously focused on college readiness and developmental education issues.
NSF funding opportunities available to community colleges
Several NSF leaders said they are concerned about growing evidence that students are not earning associate degrees because they cannot complete the sequence of developmental mathematics courses.
Vanessa Smith Morest, an adjunct professor at Teachers College at Columbia University (New York), cited low graduation rates of students placed in developmental courses at Norwalk Community College (Connecticut), where she is dean of institutional effectiveness, as an example of challenges community colleges face.
Following the progress of a cohort of 670 first-time-in-college students, Morest noted that 42 percent never attempted a college math course after six years, and 64 percent of students who were placed in developmental courses did not enroll in a college-level science course.
Morest’s presentation and slides from the other presentations at the conference are available online.
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