Students give guided pathways a thumbs up

College students value guided pathways programs in helping them to select a major and its required courses, a new survey shows.

About half (51 percent) of surveyed two- and four-year college students said they had changed their major at least once. A higher percent of two-year college students said they did so, compared to four-year students, 57 percent versus 47 percent, respectively. Overall, 18 percent of all surveyed students said their schools were less-than-moderately helpful in providing guidance on majors.

A significant number of students participating in the survey also said they needed more clarity around courses and prerequisites. One-third said major/degree course requirements were unclear, and one-quarter said the same about prerequisites, according to the survey from Ellucian, a higher education software and services provider.

Providing a focus

Guided pathways programs appear to help students focus on a major and its required courses and pre-requisites. Sixty-two percent of two-year college students found it helpful that their college groups majors into categories or meta majors, rather than individual majors during their first two years of colleges.

Pathways programs also are helping four-year college students, with 59 percent saying guided pathways benefitted them.

The survey also shows students value technologies that help them stay on track, such as date-reminder nudges, proactive advising/targeted interventions, virtual one-stops and online “what if” tools for majors/degrees.

“It’s essential that institutions look at pathways approaches alongside technologies that scale the student-advisor relationship to help guide students as they work towards their personal successful outcomes,” Kari Branjord, senior vice president of digital transformation, said in an accompanying press release.

The survey also shows that community college students are more likely to give their institutions high marks (59 percent) for helping them choose a major that aligned with their career path, compared to four-year students (53 percent).

The survey comprised 1,000 public and private college students, including 400 community college students. About 17 percent of the students in the survey attended college part-time.

Delays equal higher costs

Changes in majors often result in delays in completion and additional costs, according to Ellucian. Of all surveyed students, 39 percent said they needed to take more major courses as a result of changing their major, and 31 percent said they needed additional general education courses.

About 28 percent said changing majors would significantly delay their expected graduation/completion date (by two or more semesters), with 23 percent indicating a slight delay (by one semester). Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) said it would result in increases in their overall tuition costs.

Relying on advisors

Students rely on support from advisors during registration, and they need more attention when they transfer, according to Ellucian. When they have registration questions, 57 percent of surveyed students said they asked academic advisors, 45 percent asked instructor/faculty members, and 39 percent asked other students. More than one-third (36 percent) sought advice from family members, and 31 percent went to a career center for help.

But the survey shows that students met with an advisor only twice a year, on average. While 35 percent met twice with their advisor over the academic year, 29 percent of respondents met once with their advisor (21 percent) or not at all (8 percent). One-fifth met with an advisor three times.

When students did meet with an advisor, nearly half of the time (48 percent) it was initiated by the student. The rate of students solely initiating advisor meetings was higher among two-year college students (54 percent) than four-year students (44 percent).

Questions about student aid, transferring

In those meetings, the top topics of discussions for both two- and four-year students were academic plans, required courses and current courses, according to the survey. But there were topics that community college students discussed more often with their advisors than four-year college students, such as financial aid, the transfer process, college affordability or financial concerns, and emotional well-being/mental health.

Not surprisingly, community college students want more guidance on the transfer process. In particular:

  • Two-thirds indicated that they want more advice from their community college on which courses are eligible for transfer credits. (One-third of students said they didn’t receive any advice from their college on this.)
  • 56 percent said they need more advice on how to transfer.
  • Nearly half (49 percent) want more help in choosing a four-year college.

Ten percent of community college students said that they hadn’t yet received any support regarding the transfer process from their college.

Four-year institutions also appear to have room for improvement in helping students transfer from a community college.

  • 64 percent of transfer students wanted more advice from their four-year institutions on which courses to take to fulfill major/graduation requirements.
  • 59 percent said they wanted more advice on which courses are eligible for transfer credit.
  • 46 percent wanted more advice about on-campus resources, such as housing and financial aid. (More than half of transfer students said they didn’t get advice about on-campus resources from their four-year college.)

Fifteen percent of transfer students said they hadn’t yet received any support from their four-year institution.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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