Broadening Access to STEM Through a Hybrid Online 2+2 Program
To broaden participation of underrepresented minorities (URM) in STEM, strengthening the 2+2 pipeline is recommended. Despite strong intentions to transfer into 4-year degree programs, many 2-year students do not complete the transition, and this transfer gap is wider for URM students. In response to these challenges, the Microbiology and Cell Science (MCS) program at the University of Florida (UF) developed a new model of a 2+2 program that uses a hybrid online approach to bring a STEM curriculum to the students rather than attempting to recruit URM students to campus. In this paradigm, 2-year graduates transfer into UF as online students in a program called the Distance Education in Microbiology and Cell Science Bachelor of Science (DE MCS). By evaluating the outcomes of this approach, the project contributes to research on broadening access to STEM.
This STEP project goal is to increase the number and diversity of students receiving their B.S. in the life sciences. MCS partnered with Miami Dade College-North Campus (MDC) to increase recruitment, retention, and success of MDC students transferring into the DE MCS program. The specific research objectives are to a) test the hypothesis that a hybrid online 2+2 model can increase participation and diversity; b) determine the effect of STEP interventions on success; and c) identify student characteristics and predictors of success.
The DE MCS program was designed according to a framework that emphasized the needs of the project partner, which was a large, minority-serving institution. All MCS majors, regardless of transfer status or location, take the same MCS courses taught by the same faculty, take all laboratory courses in a face-to-face format, take only proctored exams, and have the same availability to faculty. The project compares the enrollment, retention rates, academic performance and key characteristics of three cohorts of MCS majors: on-campus, on-campus transfers, and DE MCS.
Since 2011, DE MCS enrollment has increased from 11 to 79 students and has contributed to an overall enrollment increase. Notably, the DE MCS program enrolls more URM (49%) and women (67%) than the existing on-campus MCS cohorts. The DE MCS cohort has comparable graduation and retention rates as on-campus cohorts. The DE MCS program has 23 graduates to date, and for many, the DE MCS unique format was their only opportunity to earn a degree. The mean graduation GPA is comparable to the MCS on-campus graduates. Overall, these data demonstrate that the hybrid-online approach is successful in increasing URM participation and strengthening the 2+2 pipeline.
As the first of its kind in a STEM field, the DE MCS program serves as a model for programs seeking to broaden their reach. The project outcomes are relevant to many fields and have been presented to multiple conferences including those focused on undergraduate biology education, 2+2 programs, URM in STEM, and distance education technologies. Finally, the initial outcomes of DE MCS program were published in PLOS One (Drew et al. 2015), and current research on the characteristics of the students is in preparation.
Drew JC, Oli MW, Rice KC, et al. Development of a Distance Education Program by a Land-Grant University Augments the 2-Year to 4-Year STEM Pipeline and Increases Diversity in STEM. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(4):e0119548. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0119548.