Friday, May 23, 2008

Studying Science at Community Colleges

There was an interesting article in yesterday's Los Angeles Times about a group of faculty members at Santa Ana College who have started a scholarship fund for students who cannot afford the $600 it costs to attend full time. It is a public community college in Orange County which serves "the densely populated, impoverished core of Santa Ana". Half the student body is Latino/Latina, and 60% receive financial aid. Many are the first in their families to attend college. The scholarship fund is particularly helpful to non-citizens and non-California residents, who are not eligible for financial aid.

Maximina Guzman, student government president and a former student of [chemistry professor Jeff] McMillan, plans to apply for the scholarship.

Because she is not a citizen -- she and her parents came to the United States illegally when she was 3 -- she is not eligible for financial aid. The biology student has paid her own way, working full time at a hotel gift shop and moonlighting as a telemarketer.

Guzman said her grades have suffered because she had to balance homework, two jobs and family obligations. She usually finds time to study only between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.

If she is awarded a scholarship, she could cut down on weekend work hours, she said.

"It's frustrating to know that I could get better grades if I didn't have to work all the time," she said.
I think that Associate's degree-awarding community colleges are often neglected in the discussion of science education. They serve a student population that is more likely to to have dependents and be working full time than their counterparts at 4-year institutions. It allows students who are not academically or financially prepared to enter a 4-year degree program to earn a degree that will prepare them to work as a technician or, if they are so inclined, to transfer an institution that grants Bachelor's degrees.

It is perhaps not surprising that women receive a higher proportion of Associate's degrees than Bachelor's degrees in scientific fields. Some statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics:
  • Women were awarded a higher proportion of the science degrees at 2-year institutions than at 4-year institutions (Tables 18, 19 and M2):

    Field% Associates Degrees
    awarded to women
    % Bachelors Degrees
    awarded to women
    all degrees60%57%
    biological or
    life sciences
    computer and
    information sciences
    physical sciences52%40%

  • Students at 2-year institutions are more likely to have dependents and be a single parent (tab 35):

    Institution type1 dependent2 or more
    single parents
    public 2-year13.8%20.7%16.4%
    public 4-year
    public 4-year

  • Students are more likely to work full time while attending a 2-year institution (tab 44):

    Institution typeDid not workWork full timeHours Worked
    (for those who worked)
    Public 2-year15.8%53.8%36.0/39.3
    Public 4-year
    Public 4-year
I don't know how it works in other states, but both the University of California and the California State University systems encourage transfers from California community colleges. The system provides science education to students who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to pursue a degree, whether they chose to transfer to a 4-year college or not. And it's excellent that the professors at Santa Ana College are willing to financially help students pursue their education.

(Oh, BTW, if you happen to be in California, please buy lots and lots of lottery tickets, because that's what's funding our education system.)

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Anonymous said...

You make a great point here. It's true that when we think about serious science and science education we often don't think of community colleges. I like to believe the science community is pretty meritocratic, though, and we should all be supportive of systems like this that allow intelligent, motivated people to study science even if their personal circumstances make studying at a "regular" 4-year college or university.

I think most states have programs within their state college/university system that encourages transfers between community colleges and 4-year ones. Also, many private colleges have arrangements with local community colleges to do the same thing.

You said something pretty cringe-worthy at the end there, and I have to speak up about it. I'm sure you were being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but still: I can't get behind an endorsement of government-run lotteries. They blatantly distort statistics to take advantage of the general public's innumeracy. The fact that the money is allegedly used to fund education just makes the situation worse -- it's a way to justify after the fact that you got tricked into throwing away your money. (In reality it's all government income and then there's spending on education; the money's fungible. The lottery money isn't really special, and it's not the only source of education funding.)

If you really want to support education funding, vote for politicians who are in favor of allocating more of it, and petition your government to follow through. Don't play into a system that claims to improve the public education level while actually exploiting how uneducated people are.

Peggy K said...

Anon: Yeah, the lottery comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I think it's pretty appalling that the governor has suggested that bonds against future gambling income are a good way to fund the state.

Danny Escabarte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danny Escabarte said... wonderful it is seeing people learning and acquiring scientific knowledge for practical use. Governments have spent so much on warfare and defense but less and less for education. How i wish our children will be given the opportunities to love science and put into practice what they learned. We have problems on food shortages, diseases, and other environmental issues that affects our lives.

And knowledge when applied properly can help ease the burden that we carry now.

If we can only channel available funding more for education...there's no reason that this world would continue hurting itself, there's no more reason for children to go hungry and sick...and families will enjoy God's bounty in nature.

Thanks a lot!!

~danny escabarte~