A first-look at progress of guided pathways

A review of community colleges that are the early adapters of the guided pathways model shows a promising start to their efforts, though there are some areas that require more focus, such as faculty involvement.

The new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) at the University of Texas at Austin provides the first national baseline data on student and faculty perceptions of guided pathways practices. While guided pathways work is underway at a growing number of campuses, it is too early for most colleges to see significant change, according to the report. But improvement in engagement is one early indicator.

“Thus, when more colleges are deeply involved in the work of guided pathways, the center anticipates that student engagement will increase — and improvements in outcomes will follow,” the report said.

This first-look at early guided pathways colleges shows a building of momentum, said CCCSE Executive Director Linda Garcia. But colleges, in general, are advancing more in some areas than others.

For example, the data appear to indicate that conversations on pathways need to be expanded with faculty, Garcia said. Fifty-five percent of faculty participating in the survey said their colleges were implementing guided pathways, but, of those faculty members, about 36 percent said they were not involved.

“It shows we need to do more work engaging these faculty to bring them on, even providing some professional development,” she said. “If we’re going to change the culture, we really have to get everybody involved.”

Some positive indicators from the survey:

  • 68 percent of entering students reported being required to meet with an advisor before registering for classes.
  • 67 percent of entering students said they were required to follow an academic plan that specified the courses they needed to take.
  • 79 percent of returning students said the courses they needed to take were available when they needed them.

Some areas tagged for potential focus:

  • Less than half (44 percent) of entering students said that someone at the college had talked with them about the types of jobs their pathway of study would lead to.
  • Only 41 percent of entering students reported using their college’s website to explore career options.
  • Of faculty members who reported that their college is implementing guided pathways, 49 percent said they need more professional development about their role in the initiative.

Faculty involvement

Faculty involvement is crucial, especially when students are taking most, if not, all their courses online and are not visiting campuses due to the pandemic, Garcia said. Instructors are currently the only contact a student may have with the college, so it is vital that faculty help students stay on course and at least help them navigate where to find additional help, she said.

“Most of our chances to engage these students are in the classroom,” Garcia said, noting that may students don’t participate in other college activities because of competing responsibilities, such as work and family obligations. “That’s why it’s critical to engage the faculty, whether they are part-time or full-time. Those conversations in the classroom are going to be the most impactful.”

Guided pathways aims to improve students’ rates of completion, transfer to four-year institutions, and attainment of jobs with value by reframing the entire student journey. It includes intensive and continual academic advising, early career exploration, structured academic and career-focused communities, and active and applied learning experiences, among other things.

The model also can be crucial in directing students along their college journey during the current pandemic, social unrest and economic upheaval, Garcia said. For instance, helping students select a career or major pathway can focus them on the courses they must take to reach their goal, which helps them gauge the cost and even time needed to complete it, she said.

Staying on path

While providing a career path to help students select the courses they need, offering support services for students to stay on that path is also important, Garcia said. Too often, students are derailed by factors such cost, living expenses, transportation, childcare and more.

Yet, several pathways colleges haven’t provided some of those contacts to help students. For example, 39 percent of students responding to the survey, on average, reported that no one at their college talked with them about how long it will take to complete their degree. And 59 percent, on average, said that no one at the college discussed with them the total cost of completing their certificate or degree.

“Even when students know what classes they need for a credential, if they do not have a specific timeline and an accurate understanding of their financial cost, they do not have a clear pathway,” the report said.

If colleges can align classroom instruction with support services from other departments, it would be even more effective, Garcia said. She encouraged colleges to continue to find ways to work within to help students succeed, especially in their day-to-day operations.

“Students are not coming to us to fail, so we have to guide them to the finish line,” Garcia said.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
is editor of Community College Daily and serves as publications director for the American Association of Community Colleges.