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What Students Say: Taking Community College Pathways to Computer Science Degrees

What Students Say: Taking Community College Pathways to Computer Science Degrees

By Louise Ann Lyon, PhD | December 1, 2016
Senior Research Associate, ETR

Why isn’t the tech field more diverse? And what can we do to change that?

One of the challenges is the so-called “pipeline” issue. We don’t have enough women and underrepresented minority students pursuing, and then completing, computer science degrees. That means we don’t have enough trained and skilled professionals to do all of the work that needs doing.

ETR has partnered with Google on a just-released study that can help us understand some of the supports and barriers that face women and underrepresented minorities seeking computer science education through a community college pathway. We focused on the experiences as described by students themselves who are pursuing computer science degrees.

The Role of Community Colleges

Community colleges serve an extremely important role in educating and training people from all walks of life. I have seen first-hand the commitment and excellence of community college instructors. I believe strongly that these postsecondary institutions are a keystone for the future, keeping the populace educated and job-ready.

Due to my interest and experiences in community colleges, I was excited to partner with Google on this study. We investigated the lived experiences of underrepresented students attending community college as a step in their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

Commitment and Optimism

I was inspired by the commitment and optimism of the students I interviewed. I was astounded by their stories of perseverance and resolve. (You can find a number of their stories in the report.) Community colleges are working tirelessly for their students, and both four-year institutions and industry could partner with these schools to assist students in pursuing their dreams.

More details can be found in the report, but three themes came out strongly from the students that can inform efforts by community colleges, four-year educational institutions, and industry to support and encourage the retention of women and underrepresented minority students in the pipeline.

First, students are having a hard time getting and completing the classes they need in the shortest amount of time. Secondly, students are scratching their heads about what classes they need for transfer because requirements for acceptance of transfer students differ significantly between different four-year institutions. Finally, students are interested in any opportunities they have to hear about or experience the computer science workplace.

We are grateful to Google for supporting these efforts. Hopefully, the findings from this study, and others like it that Google is funding, will challenge and motivate four-year institutions and industry as well as community colleges to support student persistence. Working together, these entities can identify better ways to partner for the benefit of students.


Louise Ann Lyon, PhD, is a Senior Research Associate at ETR. She brings industry experience in the software engineering workplace together with a research background to her focus on diversifying technology at postsecondary institutions and in the workplace. She can be reached at


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