Michigan Two- and Four-Year Colleges Team Up To Boost Minority STEM Enrollment - Higher Education
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Michigan Two- and Four-Year Colleges Team Up To Boost Minority STEM Enrollment

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by Eric Freedman

A new initiative between nine Michigan community colleges and four public universities aims to use “pre-first year” programs, paid research experiences and other strategies to dramatically expand the number of minority students in STEM majors. The initiative features community colleges in largely urban areas, like the Wayne County Community College District—with campuses in Detroit and its suburbs—and community colleges in Lansing, Macomb and Grand Rapids. But schools in smaller, economically distressed communities also have joined the Michigan Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. For example, Lake Michigan College in tiny Benton Harbor,  or Muskegon Community College 90 miles up the Lake Michigan coast, both serve largely low-income, minority student populations.

The addition of community colleges in the second phase of the MI-LSAMP initiative coincides with rising enrollment at the state’s two-year campuses and rising tuition at the four-year ones.

“We recognize that more and more students are considering community college as one pathway to a bachelor’s degree in the STEM disciplines,” says David Wiggins, a professor of engineering, math and physics at Muskegon.

The National Science Foundation launched LSAMP in 1993 to increase the number and quality of underrepresented students who earn undergraduate degrees in STEM disciplines and to expand the number who are interested in and qualified for graduate programs.

Specific activities vary from state to state. The University of Texas system hosts summer research academies for prospective graduate students. The City University of New York’s system of 17 two- and four-year colleges and its Graduate Center offers research assistantships and restructured “gatekeeper” courses in chemistry, math and physics. The California State University system’s “Bridge to the Doctorate” supports fellows admitted to master’s programs, including stipends, an allowance for education costs and intensive mentoring.

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In Michigan, the alliance builds on a five-year effort by the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and Western Michigan University. Between 2005 and 2010, those universities increased the number of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded to underrepresented minority students by almost 50 percent. Project coordinator Dr. Levi Thompson says student demographics and location were the major determinants in deciding which community colleges would be invited to take part in MI-LSAMP.

“Demographics was an important issue—what their student body looks like,” says the UM chemical engineering professor.

Proximity to a participating four-year university was the other principal consideration, he says. For example, Muskegon and Lake Michigan are among those close enough to conveniently partner with Western Michigan.

The partner universities will help community college students and counselors understand STEM career opportunities and course transfer equivalencies. At Western Michigan, the collaborative efforts include a summer “pre-college” program to get incoming students up to speed with their problem-solving and math and science skills, says Dr. Edmund Tsang, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

In March, UM President Mary Sue Coleman highlighted the expanded initiative in testimony at a legislative hearing in Lansing on higher education appropriations.

“With increased transfer students enrolling on our campuses, the result will be more talented graduates for our state,” she told lawmakers.

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