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Report: Community College Students Confused About Pathways to Obtain CS Degrees

Computer science (CS) has become an increasingly popular major in postsecondary education, yet students at community colleges struggle to stay on track to graduate with a CS degree, according to a new report. Google for Education, in partnership with nonprofit Education, Training, Research, surveyed 321 students enrolled in introductory programming or data structures classes at two community colleges in California – a state that enrolls a quarter of all community college students in the United States – to examine pathways to obtain CS degrees for community college students, especially those from underrepresented groups.

The two schools in the study consisted of one “rural” and one “urban” community college, chosen “based on their high numbers of students traditionally underrepresented in CS” like Hispanic, African American and female students. Overall, survey respondents were “confused about computer science transfer pathways from their community college to their prospective four-year institutions.” The report suggests that the fallout of CS transfers is correlated to unclear pathways, finding that “community college students struggle to move efficiently through the CS prerequisite chain of classes in preparation for transfer.” Pathways can be unclear and inconsistent, which can be particularly challenging for community college students juggling family and financial responsibilities.  

According to the study, community college students’ interest in CS degrees can be delayed when the following occurs:

  • Necessary prerequisite classes are over-enrolled;
  • Math requirements are “daunting”;
  • Students lack confidence to succeed in needed courses; or
  • Competing responsibilities interfere.

“Additional institutional support and flexibility can help students stay on a pathway toward realizing their CS educational goals,” the report states. “Strengthening the CS transfer pathway and improving available resources could help larger numbers of students move more effectively and efficiently towards obtaining bachelor’s degrees.”  

Lastly, the study revealed that some community college students have “limited knowledge” of how to apply CS in professional settings and how to prepare for careers in CS. “Students are pursuing CS degrees because they believe it will help them obtain jobs in a variety of fields that they find meaningful and lucrative,” according to the report. “However, students have only a vague understanding of the skills and knowledge necessary for particular careers and fields where CS can be applied. Partnerships between community colleges and industry could offer first-hand experiences and applications to increase understanding of career potential and requirements and help encourage students to persist along the pathway to a bachelor’s degree in CS.”

“Student Perspectives of Community College Pathways to Computer Science Bachelor’s Degrees” is part of a series of Google reports on CS education research designed to identify strategies to improve perceptions of CS, in an effort to broaden learning opportunities for all students.

Further information, including a breakdown of survey data, is available in the Google report.   

About the Author

Sri Ravipati is Web producer for THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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