Computer science meets liberal arts

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Catering to the diverse needs and goals of learners, community colleges typically offer a broad array of academic options, including transfer, workforce, continuing education, and community and leisure learning programming.

The term “transfer” refers to general education and liberal arts programs that lead to bachelor’s degrees through articulated or transfer credits.  Workforce programs are aimed at preparing students for regional labor markets after the completion of certificates or associate degrees in specific occupation sectors. According to the Survey of Entering Student Engagement (SENSE), 78% of entering students at the responding community colleges indicated that transferring to a four-year college or university is the primary goal of their educational journey.

Given the majority of students at colleges are enrolled in the transfer or liberal arts programs, it is critical to examine the preparation and readiness of liberal arts graduates to integrate into careers and professions that have been significantly impacted by the ongoing computer science and data revolution. The question is twofold: First, how should colleges bridge the perceived gap between liberal arts and computer science disciplines given the premise that both are intended to solve problems which take place in human contexts? And second, how can computer science education be integrated across the curriculum, regardless of major?

To address these questions, it is imperative to bring key stakeholders and educational partners to the table to promote computer science education across the curriculum through a collaborative and transdisciplinary approach. Some important strategies may include the following:

K-12 pipeline

Community colleges and local K-12 systems work closely to develop a transition pipeline through dual-credit, early college and traditional high school entry. Dual-credit offers an excellent opportunity to offer college credit to school computer science students. Like workforce programs that are promoted by colleges among dual-credit students, computer science courses and associated career programs might attract high school students to enroll in classes.

Community colleges can also offer professional development, ongoing support to high school faculty in terms of both content and pedagogy. This support may be especially valuable to high school faculty who serve high numbers of underprivileged students.

Interdisciplinary approach at community colleges

Many community colleges offer interdisciplinary studies programs to prepare students for a complex, interconnected world. An appropriate representation of computer science courses may be desirable through a thoughtful curriculum review process. Community colleges may also include computer science courses as transferable electives so students can transfer credits to four-year institutions.

Four-year institutions

One of the major issues surrounding the potential change in liberal arts programs of study at community colleges is their transferability to four-year institutions. Transfer agreements are formal agreements that define course equivalencies between college and university. While such agreements provide an important procedural and legal framework for interinstitutional cooperation, their development or any change in the existing agreements require a great deal of time, effort, and resources, and therefore often prove frustrating to all parties. To support the notion of computer science across the curriculum at community colleges and seamless transfer of students to partner four-year institutions, it is imperative to secure partners’ institutional commitment and vision.

The future of our competitiveness in a global and interconnected world rests on how we train our workforce to solve complex problems, innovate and fully participate in the ongoing digital revolution. I believe the community college has a bigger role in this movement.

About the Author

Muddassir Siddiqi
Muddassir Siddiqi, Ed.D., is president of Central College, which is part of the Houston Community College System in Texas.