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Higher ed advocates tout benefits of ATE

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Community college and higher education supporters on Tuesday detailed to a House subcommittee how certain federally funded technological education programs broaden student participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), especially among minorities.
 
Speaking before the House Science and Technology Committee’s panel on research and science education, representatives from community and tribal colleges and universities noted the benefits of National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded STEM programs in building a pipeline for students to prepare for and work in related fields.
 
At Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC) in South Carolina, NSF funding has helped the college improve efforts to address industry needs for highly skilled engineering technicians. Since it joined NSF’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, enrollment has doubled and the time it takes a student to graduate with an associate degree in engineering technology has decreased from 3.8 years to 2.2 years, said Elaine Craft, director of the South Carolina ATE Center of Excellence, which is located at FDTC.
 
Craft attributed student improvements to faculty preparation that improved teaching methodologies and curriculum, introduced problem-based learning, integrated content across subjects and encouraged teamwork among students and instructors.
 
Over the past five years, Craft’s center has helped to promote FDTC’s strategies to community colleges in more than 25 states, including California and Texas. The ATE center’s faculty development model is now being tested as a dropout prevention strategy in Georgia and South Carolina high schools with promising results, Craft said in her written testimony.
 
Community colleges’ link to broaden STEM participation is critical, especially to reach minorities, said Shirley Malcom, head of education and human resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She noted that 38 percent of African-Americans, 51 percent of Hispanics and 42 percent of Native American students are enrolled in community colleges. In addition, half of teachers have attended a community college at some point, and about 40 percent completed some of their math and science preparation at a two-year college.
 
“One cannot consider the pathways to STEM without considering the role of community colleges,” Malcom said.
 
STEM efforts at tribal colleges were also highlighted at the hearing. David Yarlott, president of Little Big Horn College (Montana) and board chair of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, outlined how NSF’s tribal colleges and universities program has helped to increase STEM enrollment at Sitting Bull College (North Dakota), improve retention and increase online courses offerings at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Community College (Wisconsin) and assist Turtle Mountain Community College (North Dakota) in establishing research partnerships with four-year institutions.
 
Encouraging more students to participate in STEM programs faces significant barriers. To overcome those obstacles, educators must show students the relevance of STEM and higher education must reach out to high schools to help students prepare for college-level work, Craft said.
 
“Mathematics should be taught from application to theory using problem-solving and real-world applications,” she said.
 
Malcom agreed, adding that currently at the K-12 level there is too much focus on “passing the next test” rather than showing students the relevance of applying math and science to the real world.​
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