American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
Northern Virginia Community College
September 11, 1996
If there's one thing I'd like you to know about the National Science Foundation, it is that education and learning are at the core of our mission. We are committed to reaching all students at every level, by promoting inquiry-based, hands-on learning experiences in science, math and engineering.
As we look to the future, we expect that employers will seek people who not only are well versed in science and technology concepts, but are also adept at learning through experimentation, inquiry, critical examination, and discovery--all characteristics of research.
Harold Raveche, the President of Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, summed this up in an op-ed that ran in the New York Times some months ago. He wrote, "employers today are seeking a highly trainable work force, rather than just a highly trained work force."
Community colleges are at the forefront of this effort. We all know that community colleges play a key role in preparing students for the workplace of tomorrow. Almost 50% of undergraduate students are enrolled in community colleges, and two-year schools account for over one-third of all undergraduate students enrollments in science, math, engineering and technology fields. These facts make community colleges a cornerstone of our system of undergraduate education, particularly in mathematics and the sciences.
At NSF, we are also committed to institution-wide reform of undergraduate education. This comprehensive approach to reform is no small goal, for when I speak of institution-wide reform, I speak of breaking down longstanding barriers of all kinds within educational institutions. These barriers--which have impeded student performance and achievement over many decades--include barriers between departments and disciplines, between bureaucracies and institutions and even between institutions themselves.
This last point is particularly important for community colleges. To prepare students for the next level--either in the workforce or in academe--community colleges must overcome significant obstacles between the often substandard education of students at the K-12 level and the educational demands of the workplace and four-year institutions. Unfortunately--according to a recent NSF review of undergraduate education--community college faculty often face many financial and other barriers that prevent them from working closely with or developing meaningful partnerships with their colleagues in four-year schools, with business leaders, or with high-school teachers.
Breaking down these barriers--barriers that impede reform of science and math education--is one reason why NSF programs like the Advanced Technological Education program were created. ATE projects have sought to enable close cooperation and collaboration between community colleges, high schools, businesses and four-year schools--so that students will be better prepared for the increasingly complex workplace of the 21st century.
Today's videoconference is entirely consistent with this philosophy. We have representatives from a wide variety of institutions interested in the reform of undergraduate education--particularly at 2-year schools--to talk about real reform of our entire system of undergraduate education.
I am hopeful that today's discussion will encourage all of us--and by that I mean NSF, our partners in government and industry, and all the institutions we support--to raise our sights and begin to commit ourselves to breaking down the barriers and building a bridge to a better system of science, math and engineering education for the 21st century.
Thank you and again, welcome!