‘Going all in’

The 30 community colleges participating in the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) Pathways Project — a national effort to use guided pathways to improve student success — are “going all in” and making substantial progress in key areas, according to a new report.

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) today releases a 62-page progress report on Pathways, which started in late 2015, indicating that all colleges have in the project’s first year at least made headway in four guided pathway key practice areas:

  • Mapping pathways to student end goals
  • Helping students choose and enter a program pathway
  • Keeping students on path
  • Ensuring that students are learning

“The speed with which the AACC pathways colleges are moving toward implementing pathways is impressive,” says a summary of the report. “Equally impressive is that the colleges are ‘going all in,’ planning to make changes in all four practice areas of the guided pathways model rather than approaching the reforms piecemeal.”

The report breaks down important components of each of four areas. For example, for mapping pathways to student end goals, CCRC researchers noted that participating colleges are using career-focused meta-majors as a framework for program mapping. About one-third were in the process of sequencing program courses and identifying critical courses and milestones for every program, but most were still in the planning stages.

These college are also redesigning their websites to show how program maps connect to career and transfer opportunities. In addition, the colleges are trying to find a balance between providing too much and too little choice for students. Another important component is that the colleges are flexible and are continuing to revise their maps, aware that program curricula and requirements change.

The report also cites examples of participating colleges. For example, it highlights efforts at San Jacinto College in Texas, which re-organized its 144 degree and certificate programs into eight meta-majors, which it calls “career pathways.” Meanwhile, Monroe Community College in New York has created six “schools,” and St. Petersburg College in Florida has organized its programs into 10 “career and academic communities.”

Big changes

Researchers from CCRC — which is among the eight grant partners on Pathways — noted that one of the most dramatic changes in practice among the colleges studied is that most are moving to a model that helps students explore college and career options, choose a program and develop at least a preliminary full-program plan by the end of the first term.

CCRC researchers will present their findings for this report and other guided pathway reforms at the AACC Annual Convention. Download the AACC convention app and mark it on your schedule.

“Several colleges are redesigning their new student orientations and student success courses in support of this goal,” the report says. “Most colleges intend to use students’ program plans to schedule classes and to enable students and advisors to monitor students’ progress throughout their experiences at the college.”

The participating colleges are also focusing on ramping up student advising, from redefining advising roles to hiring new advisors. But this is an area that is proving challenging for Pathways, as it requires a redesign of advising for faculty, staff and students and there is a learning curve associated with it.

To help improve advising, the participating colleges are improving information systems to help student and advisors more easily monitor students’ progress. The college are also trying to create more predictable schedules for students to help them complete their programs more quickly.

“A couple of these colleges are considering ways to preregister students each semester for the next term based on their program plans,” according to the summary.

Although the pathways model is more directed in the types of courses students should take based on their education and career goals, it is not inflexible. Some of the colleges in the program are developing policies to help students “redirect” when their interests changes or when they are not likely to be admitted to selective programs, such as nursing.

The next frontier

Connecting developmental education reforms to pathways efforts will be one of the main next steps for the 30 colleges, the report says.

“This will enable more students who arrive at college underprepared to get on a program path and pass critical program gateway courses, ideally in their first year,” it says.

This will include:

  • Moving away from separating college-ready and not-college-ready students and toward “the idea that virtually all entering students need help developing skills and habits to thrive in college.”
  • Relying less on standardized tests to place students and involve faculty teaching introductory college courses in using classroom assessments to determine the needs of their students.
  • Providing more contextualized academic support to students while they are enrolled in college-level courses, rather than making remediation a prerequisite for college-level coursework.
  • Shifting from providing support primarily in math and English courses and instead “integrate academic support into all courses that are critical gateways to college programs of study.”

AACC Pathway 2.0: AACC is accepting applications from colleges to participate in Pathways 2.0, which aims to help community colleges design and implement guided academic and career pathways at scale for all students. The deadline is June 1.

About the Author

The CCDaily is published by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).