A Longitudinal Analysis of Community College Pathways to Computer Science Bachelor’s Degrees

A Longitudinal Analysis of Community College Pathways to Computer Science Bachelor’s Degrees is one in a series of Google reports designed to explore the pathways and experiences that community college students — especially those from underrepresented groups — follow to a bachelor’s degree in computer science (CS) and the opportunities that exist or that might be created to ensure successful career advancement. While the companion report, Student Perspectives of Community College Pathways to Computer Science Bachelor’s Degrees (Lyon & Denner, 2016), takes a qualitative approach to understanding the challenges facing underrepresented community college students in California who hope to transfer and complete a bachelor’s degree in CS, this report investigates the national landscape of CS students at community colleges in order to better understand student behaviors and institutional characteristics that support or hinder community college students’ efforts to attain a CS bachelor’s degree.

Key findings and recommendations

In general, the data suggest that navigating the community college pathway to a CS bachelor’s degree is complex and challenging, such that only students who are focused and fortunate are able to navigate the pathway successfully. To create more structured and supported pathways that will help a larger number of underrepresented community college students to attain a CS bachelor’s degree, two- and four-year colleges — particularly those in major technology hubs — need to partner more closely together. In particular:

  • Nearby community colleges and four-year colleges should work together to create CS-specific program maps that guarantee acceptance to the destination college’s CS-related majors if students complete specific courses with a specific grade point average.
  • Program maps should include options for different levels of math and science preparation based on the specific requirements of certain CS subfields, and should perhaps include a CS-specific prebaccalaureate award as a formal stepping-stone to transfer, in order to entice more CS associate degree earners to transfer into CS programs at four-year colleges.
  • Community colleges should proactively recruit underrepresented students into CS majors, emphasizing the wide array of creative, prosocial, and well-paid careers available to those with CS expertise.
  • Four-year colleges should encourage transfer students to select a major prior to transfer, and for those who choose a CS major, provide tailored support services, proactively track progress, and intervene when students appear to be veering “off track.”
  • CS departments should emphasize the career rewards that come with completing a higher degree, ensure that students encounter interesting and meaningful programming assignments, and encourage students to work collaboratively on assignments.

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