BOULDER, Colo. – The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and New Mexico State University (NMSU), in collaboration with its branch community colleges, are partnering on an important effort to bring more undergraduate transfer students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) majors to graduation and, ultimately, the job market.
WICHE and NMSU will use a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Education and Human Resources (IUSE:EHR) Program (Award ID 2044434) to test the feasibility of using sets of lower-division student learning outcomes (SLOs) as the basis of block transfer into undergraduate engineering programs. Instead of accepting only specific courses when a student transfers as most institutions currently do, students would be able to transfer lower-division courses mapped to the SLOs as a block into engineering programs.
“The lack of a sufficient number of engineering graduates to fill an expanding job market right now makes this the perfect time to rethink the traditional paradigm of engineering programs,” says Jere Mock, WICHE vice president of Programs and Services. “The goal of this project is to demonstrate that students who transfer should be able to complete an engineering degree without excessively extending their time to graduation or jeopardizing their degree completion. It is a win for students, for institutions, and the job market.”
Recent research indicates that the traditional pathway of entering college as a STEM major and completing a degree program in four years is becoming atypical. Instead, nearly half of STEM bachelor’s degree recipients now attend a community college at some point in their college career and are often required to repeat courses when they transfer. These challenges are amplified for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds who may have difficulty navigating transfer in the face of complex university admission requirements.
“Evidence is showing that while the traditional transfer pathway works for most college students, it breaks down in STEM fields, which tend to have fewer electives and tightly controlled required courses. As a result, too many transfer students end up not completing the required curriculum in four years,” says NMSU Provost Carol Parker. “We believe that the work NMSU and WICHE will do here has the potential to transform how STEM fields approach support for transfer students in the future.”
NMSU’s contribution to the project builds on curricular analytics work being done in the College of Engineering and its Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, particularly the work of co-principal investigator and Associate Professor Laura Boucheron. According to Dr. Boucheron, this will enhance student success by reducing time to degree, mitigating the effects of “bottleneck” courses and increasing student awareness of the interconnected nature of engineering topics.
“This is a timely project,” says Patricia Sullivan, associate dean for outreach and recruiting at NMSU and WICHE Commissioner. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused higher education to rethink strategies for engaging and retaining students in STEM disciplines to meet a growing workforce need. This project offers students the flexibility to begin their higher education at either a community college or four-year institution and the confidence that courses will transfer in a meaningful manner towards timely degree completion.”
The concept for this project stems from WICHE’s long-standing Interstate Passport® program. This program enables the block transfer of lower-division general education requirements based on multi-state faculty-developed learning outcomes rather than specific courses and credits. Students who achieve these outcomes earn a Passport. Earning a Passport means that students will meet all lower-division general education requirements of all other Network member institutions to which they are admitted. This can help reduce credit loss, save students time and money, and increase their chances of graduating.
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to expand upon our growing Interstate Passport program by partnering with NMSU to lay the foundation for the development of a specific passport for engineering students,” says Demarée Michelau, WICHE’s president. “Our hope is that through the concept of SLO-block transfer, we can support institutions in reforming and generalizing their transfer practices within the STEM disciplines, changes that will directly benefit students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.”
Since 1953, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) has been strengthening higher education, workforce development, and behavioral health throughout the region. As an interstate compact, WICHE partners with states, territories, and postsecondary institutions to share knowledge, create resources, and develop innovative solutions that address some of our society’s most pressing needs. From promoting high-quality, affordable postsecondary education to helping states get the most from their technology investments and addressing behavioral health challenges, WICHE improves lives across the West through innovation, cooperation, resource sharing, and sound public policy. To learn more: www.wiche.edu.
ABOUT INTERSTATE PASSPORT ®
Interstate Passport is a program based at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) that enables block transfer of lower-division general education requirements based on faculty-developed learning outcomes among participating accredited two-year and four-year colleges and universities nationwide. After years of research and development, the Interstate Passport Network, whose membership includes non-profit public and private colleges and universities, was launched in July 2016. In its first four years of operation, membership has grown to 59 institutions in 17 states, and Network member institutions have awarded 49,069 Passports to students. To learn more, visit interstatepassport.wiche.edu.