Initial Publication Date: June 8, 2017

Support the Whole Student

Jump Down To: What is the ECC Model? | The Situation at 2YCs | The Role of Geoscience | References

The percentage of students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in the US has been declining in recent decades. On top of this, the diversity of those entering and graduating from STEM programs is not keeping pace with the actual make-up of the US population (NSF, 2013). This poses challenges for departments and programs as well as employers who depend on graduates with STEM knowledge and skills. It also has implications for civil society when there are fewer members of the general public that understand the basics of science and math.

This decline is not due to lack of attention to the problem. There have been any number of programs aimed at slowing or reversing the trend in enrollments. The reasons why students don't succeed are various including under-preparation in science and math, family pressures and expectations, or a lack of recognizable role models in these fields. Many of these factor are complex and interrelated. Initiatives with holistic approaches -- those that go beyond what happens in the classroom -- have shown the most success at supporting students of all kinds (and particularly women and underrepresented minorities) from entry to graduation and/or transfer (Campbell et al., 2002; Matsui, 2003; Jolly et al., 2004; NAS et al., 2011, IBP, 2014). These holistic programs support the whole student, not just their access to and acquisition of disciplinary knowledge.

What is the ECC Model?

Jolly et al., (2004) proposed a model showing programs that succeed at supporting the whole student address three critical components:

  • Engagement: Having an orientation to the sciences and/or quantitative disciplines that includes such qualities as awareness, interest, and motivation.
  • Capacity: Possessing the acquired knowledge and skills needed to advance to increasingly rigorous content in the sciences and quantitative disciplines
  • Continuity: Institutional and programmatic opportunities, material resources, and guidance that support advancement to increasingly rigorous content in the sciences and quantitative disciplines.

In the ECC model, each of the three components is necessary but not sufficient to ensure that students stay in STEM disciplines. It is the combination of the three components that creates the right conditions for students to persist and reach their goals.

The Situation at Two-year Colleges (2YCs)

The range of students in 2YCs includes the very brightest to the least prepared, a melting pot of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, many English language learners, military veterans, students with disabilities, single parents, parolees, retirees, first-generation college students, co-enrolled high school students, retraining college graduates, and homeless individuals. In comparison to the typical four-year college or university student, the average 2YC student is nearly a decade older, commutes, and is employed more than part-time (AACC, 2014). Students in 2YCs are commonly place-bound, seeking employment or transfer within the community served by the college. Nearly half of 2YC students are from racial or ethnic minorities. Faculty in two-year colleges have both the opportunity and the challenge of teaching students with a wide range of backgrounds, abilities, goals, and preparedness.InTeGrate: Why Focus
on Diversity?

Along with the challenges posed by this incredible diversity, there are great opportunities. 2YCs already serve more of the students that we want in STEM fields than most four-year institutions. Programmatically, there are a number of ways to intentionally structure support for all three components and potentially draw larger numbers of these students into STEM programs.

The Role of Geoscience

Geoscience speaks to the three components of the ECC model in a unique way that can aid 2YC faculty support all of their students.


  • Many 2YC students are motivated by the need to find a good paying job to support their families. Geoscience provides a wide range of career possibilities with options available at degree levels from Associates to Doctorate.
  • Geoscience knowledge is crucial in understanding and addressing many of societal issues facing coming generations. Students today are interested in those challenges and want to be able to do something about them.
  • Research shows that students who feel a sense of community have a higher degree of intrinsic motivation and academic confidence.
  • Undergraduate research experiences are an important part of learning the culture and becoming a part of the community of practice -- learning what it means to be a geoscientist by doing it.


  • The Earth system is inherently interdisciplinary. This kind of learning can help students in addressing complex, real-world problems in whatever field they wind up in.
  • Geoscientists navigate easily within a range of temporal and spatial scales, incorporate the complexity of the Earth system into their reasoning, and develop multiple working hypotheses. Students in all disciplines can benefit from a better understanding of the way that geoscientists think and reason through a question, whether they are geoscience majors who will do research, education majors who will teach geoscience, economics majors who will assess the value of a resource or the impacts of climate change, or anyone who will need to make informed decisions about the risk of encountering a natural hazard.



AACC (2014). American Association of Community Colleges Fact Sheet.

Campbell, P.B., E. Jolly, L. Hoey, L. Perlman (2002). Upping the Numbers: Using Research-Based Decision Making to Increase Diversity in the Quantitative Sciences. Newton, MN: Education Development Center.

Institute for Broadening Participation (2014). Designing for Success: Positive factors that support success in STEM pathways and reduce barriers to participation: what does the research say about what enables students to succeed and persist in STEM fields? Damariscotta, ME: Institute for Broadening Participation. 12 p.

Jolly, E.J., P.B. Campbell, L. Perlman (2004). Engagement, Capacity and Continuity: A Trilogy for Student Success. A Report Commissioned by the GE Foundation.

Matsui, J., Liu, R., & Kane, C. M. (2003). Evaluating a science diversity program at UC Berkeley: more questions than answers. Cell Biology Education, 2(2), 117-121.

National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine (2011). Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America's Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 269 p.

NSF (2013). Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering. Arlington, VA. NSF 13-304, February 2013 (last accessed July, 2013)