Upward Mobility for Underrepresented Students: A Model for a Cohort-based Bachelor’s Degree in
tional. As one cohort member discovers useful knowledge, such
as how to get started on a resume-worthy side-project or what
to expect during a certain company’s behavioral and coding interviews, this information is shared among the cohort, as well
as passed between cohorts.
Cohorts are efficient from the institution’s perspective.
Communication is straightforward: information spreads quickly through the close-knit community, and cohort students are
usually in the same place. Scheduling a cohort’s classes can be
done at once, in bulk, in an automated fashion.
SUPPORTIVE YET DRIVEN CULTURE
CSin3 explicitly builds a cohort culture, based on key ideas:
• Computer science careers are an option for anyone, and un-
derstanding computer science is something anyone can do if
they put in continuous effort. Growth mindset [ 9] is taught
• Grit is key to success. Students view Angela Duckworth’s TED
Talk, which defines grit as “passion and perseverance for very
long-term goals...and working really hard to make that future
a reality” [ 8]. Grit in the CSin3 context is described as studying long hours on campus, day after day.
• No one gets left behind. Cohort members provide help when
others are struggling, academically and non-academically.
ADMISSIONS FOCUSED ON DEDICATION TO COHORT
Recruitment. Recruitment is targeted at all areas of the Salinas
Valley, including rural southern Monterey County. Outreach
activities include high school classroom visits, contact with
school counselors and teachers, presence at Hartnell college
events, and increasingly, word of mouth.
Recruitment efforts emphasize the large number of
high-paying computing jobs and stress that not all college majors provide the same opportunities for employment. Computer Science is framed in terms of its real-world impact, and examples demonstrate how computing enables progress in many
fields, like creating educational solutions for blind children or
fighting forest fires [ 20]. Presentations honestly address typical
graduation rates, and CSin3 is described as a low-cost, effective
option for students willing to put in significant effort.
Eligibility. CSin3 applicants may be seniors in high school,
may have completed some college, or may be going back to
school after time off. A 3.0 high school GPA is the stated requirement, however, students with lower GPAs are admitted if
they demonstrate high levels of motivation and grit. Prior to
starting the pathway in fall, students must be ready for calculus
and college English (see summer preparation, below).
Application. Students complete an online application via
the program web site1 that includes a 1,000 word personal statement, transcripts, and a letter of recommendation. Applications
open in September and the cohort is typically filled by January.
Selection. CSin3 has rolling admissions, based on the idea
that any student who meets admissions criteria and is passion-
these students lack knowledge about transfer and graduation
requirements, as well as computer science course content and
industry expectations [ 15]. This paucity of information can lead
to poor course choice and career preparation.
To ensure that students are well-prepared while making ef-
ficient progress to degree, CSin3 provides a pre-defined course
pathway, with guaranteed capacity for each student. Students
do not need to spend time deciding on courses, designing a
schedule, or resolving waitlist or course conflict issues.
Developed collaboratively by faculty at CSUMB and Hart-
nell College, the course pathway efficiently meets degree re-
quirements while maintaining a reasonable workload. Students
take classes year-round, including winter and summer sessions.
Besides decreasing time to graduation, continuous engagement
has been associated with increases in both retention and grad-
uation rates [ 3, 7].
Computer science skills alone are not enough for success as
a computer scientist or software engineer [ 19]. Pathway elec-
tives are chosen in order to develop specific 21st century skills
[ 24], e.g. a public speaking course to improve communication,
and three English courses to develop critical analysis.
Students complete their first three semesters primarily at
Hartnell and the final three semesters primarily at CSUMB.
However, students are integrated into the university environ-
ment early, as they take one course at CSUMB each semester
FINANCIAL AID AND LOW TUITION COSTS
Full engagement with academics and professional preparation
demands minimal distractions. Since traditionally underrepresented students are more likely to work to support themselves
during college [ 10], addressing financial needs of students is
The transfer pathway through a community college results
in tuition costs under $15,000 for the entire CSin3 program.
Through a partnership with a local philanthropic foundation,
CSin3 students in the first five cohorts received $30,000 scholarships, allowing them to focus full-time on academics and career preparation. While it is an incentive to remain on track
with the program, this kind of financial support alone is likely
not sufficient to ensure graduation.
CSin3 students are organized into cohorts of 32-35 students.
Each cohort attends classes and enrichment activities together throughout the three years of the program. While computer
science students from underrepresented backgrounds are often minorities in university departments, cohort students are
constantly surrounded by people they know, often from similar
backgrounds. CSin3 students are 90% from traditionally underrepresented groups, 80% first-generation college students, and
Cohort members form a community of learners [ 21], supporting each other in their academic and professional goals.
This support isn’t only social and emotional, but also informa- 1 https://www.csumb.edu/csin3