Computer science field seeks more paths to BAs

By CC Daily Staff

Creating a more diverse workforce in the computer science field means creating more paths to degrees.

The computer science field is looking to community colleges to help better develop a workforce with baccalaureates that is more diverse, according to two new reports commissioned by Google.

Mirroring trends in other industries, researchers noted that companies with computer science-related jobs are already experiencing a shortage of employees with bachelor’s degrees, and too few of those employees are women or minorities. The reports by the Community College Research Center (CCRC), Education, Training, Research (ETR) and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSC Research Center) examined how community colleges could help increase those numbers.

“We know that there’s a lack of diversity in technical roles at Google and across the tech industry. We also know that many students, especially female, black and Latino students and students from lower income families aren’t participating in the computer science pathway equally,” Sepi Hejazi Moghadam, head of research and development in K-12/Pre-Uni Education at Google, said in a release with the report. “In light of this, we wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the community college pathway to a bachelor’s degree in computer science in order to inform efforts to increase students’ exposure and awareness about CS while also strengthening existing pathways.”

Transfer challenges

Of the bachelor’s degrees in computer and information science in 2013-14, only 11 percent were awarded to black students, 9 percent to Hispanic students and 18 percent to women, which has been declining for three decades, according to the reports.

Because community colleges educate a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic undergraduates, Google wanted to see whether they could be tapped to help develop a stronger pipeline of workers with baccalaureates, especially among women and minorities. The research found that students who are successful tend come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, are more likely to grow up near a technology hub and transferred more quickly.

One of the challenges the reports found is that students who earn applied computer sciences degrees from community colleges often had difficulty transferring those credits toward a baccalaureate because the former degrees were developed for students to go directly into the workforce. Transferring early is one strategy to avoid taking classes that won’t apply to their major, the reports said.

Teamwork to support students

To address these and other problems, community colleges and four-year schools need to work together to remove obstacles and support students seeking to transfer into computer science majors, researchers said. With targeted programs, students who left college to work in tech fields before earning a bachelor’s or switched their major away from computer science could be better supported to complete a computer science bachelor’s.

The papers’ recommendations include:

•    Two-and four-year colleges should work together to create computer science-specific program maps with guidance on the courses that will transfer and guaranteed acceptance if requirements are met.
•    Both community colleges and four-year colleges should proactively recruit students into computer science by informing students of potential salaries, number of job openings and the variety of jobs that use computer science skills.
•    Community colleges should encourage students to choose a major and a transfer destination, and for those who choose computer science, provide supports to help them stay on track with advising and other supports.
•    Colleges can also redesign their computer science programs to ensure that math prerequisites are truly necessary for the subfield, to avoid discouraging students with weaker math backgrounds.
•    Four-year colleges must support students after they transfer and be more welcoming to female and minority transfers.

Check out the reports: “A Longitudinal Analysis of Community College Pathways to Computer Science Bachelor’s Degrees” by CCRC and NSC Research Center, and “Student Perspectives of Community College Pathways to Computer Science Bachelor’s Degrees” by ETR.

This article was originally published in Community College Daily.