Greetings, fellow guided pathways travelers –
I’m back in my office at 38,000 feet, this time headed to Davidson County CC in North Carolina and Tallahassee CC in Florida for keynotes/workshops this week. It’s a busy month – as we’ve discussed in previous posts, the interest in guided pathways has never been higher, and as proof I’m doing 14 keynotes / workshops this month in California, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas on various aspects of the guided pathways world. My colleagues Davis Jenkins, Kay McClenney and Gretchen Schmidt are doing many others on guided pathways around the country as well. It’s a great sign, and I’m excited to talk with so many colleges about the road ahead for our colleges and the improved outcomes for our students.
So I’ve been aggregating the questions in these conversations with college practitioners, and as I mentioned last time want to walk through the “Next Generation Guided Pathways Questions” in maybe 3 blog posts over the rest of 2016. This is of course a follow up to the Guided Pathways Demystified paper (available here) which originated in this CBD blog post series and walked through the first set of ten commonly asked questions about guided pathways. Now it’s time for 10 more! The ten I’m going to walk through are:
- Are guided pathways for every student?
- What should the institution do when students fall off their guided pathway?
- What happens if students change their minds? Do they have to start over?
- Doesn't faculty workload go up under a guided pathways model? Aren't we already overworked enough?
- How does a focus on teaching & learning need to evolve / shift under a guided pathways approach?
- Isn't guided pathways just the next educational fad? Shouldn't I just wait this rhetoric out like I've done for the past 25 years - where I've been right to note that nothing fundamental has changed?
- Aren't most students part-time? How do we build effective guided pathways for part-time students?
- Isn't 15 units too much to expect from community college students?
- That pathway looks great, but what about when students are 2 levels below in English and Math?
- How can we get this all done by (insert date here)?
My goal is to take three at a time over this and the next two blog posts, sneaking a fourth one in somewhere to hit all 10. To do so, I’ll need to be more brief than last time (stop rolling your collective eyes at me – I can see you), where I covered the 10 questions in 6 blog posts. So without further ado, let’s get to it!
#1 – Are guided pathways for every student?
This is a great question, and I could give a very quick answer and stop – “Absolutely not!” To expand slightly (and you knew I would), those of us who have helped shepherd this movement should have been a little clearer on this point. We have a variety of student segments at our community colleges, including but not limited to:
Students interested in transfer to a four-year institution
Students interested in cohort based CTE programs with direct entry to the workforce (certificate or degree)
Reverse transfer students coming to the CCs for one or two needed courses
Students who are engaging in short-term career advancement / career retraining (illuminatingly called “skills builders” in California)
Students interested in lifelong learning past their already-earned degrees
The exact mix of these student segments (and other smaller ones we didn’t mention) varies by college, but recent data suggests that the first two groups – transfer-focused students and cohort-based CTE students make up an even larger part of most student populations than we previously thought. My friends at the Community College Research Center (CCRC) cite National Center for Education Statistics and National Student Clearinghouse data in a slide in their guided pathways overview presentations that suggests that 80% of the 1.5 million new community college students every year have a goal of earning a bachelor’s degree at some point in their educational / career trajectories.
So these first two groups above clearly represent a significant portion if not a strong majority of students who enter our community colleges – and it’s these student segments for which we target our guided pathways efforts. Reverse transfer students who are focused on getting one or two needed courses and short-term career advancement students – California’s “skills builders” - certainly don’t need guided pathways, as most come to the CCs with a clear sense of the 1-3 courses they need to take and why. It may be the case that at another point in their career trajectories they may need a more program-based interaction at the community college, but they don’t for now. Further – the lifelong learning students taking a course or two for enrichment also don’t need guided pathways.
I’ve held the belief for a long time that we as community colleges shouldn’t use groups #3 - #5 above defensively in reaction to calls for accountability. While it’s true that if we aren’t careful, they end up in the denominator of completion rates with no chance of ever being in the numerator, it’s also true that it’s incumbent on us to do a better job of identifying these segments of students proactively so we can tell their story as well as the much larger groups who are in buckets #1 and #2. Similarly for guided pathways reform efforts, the presence of these segments also shouldn’t stop the significant and very needed work to serve the large groups of students in #1 and #2 above with a much stronger emphasis on guided pathways.
#2 – What should the institution do when students fall off their pathway?
This is also a great question, and it is often accompanied by the related question “If everybody falls off their pathways – or never gets on them – what good are the pathways?” My first response to this question is that this is actually one of those problems that is “created” by our attempting to solve a persistent problem that our students are already encountering in more traditional cafeteria-type student progression models. That is – currently many if not most general education / pre-transfer students at our colleges don’t have a clear idea of what courses they should take and in what order to meet their goals, so they don’t have the “problem” of not meeting clear goals set by the college. It’s hard to argue the students are better off now somewhat blindly making their way through their course-taking – and progression/completion data as well as data on excess units taken at graduation / pre-transfer suggests the current problem is much more significant…
Perhaps more importantly, though, is that colleges can also have clear intervention strategies for when students do fall off their pathways. In addition to many examples of early alert programs that hope to prevent students from falling off path at the end of a course, here are a couple of other quick examples from many:
Asheville-Buncombe (NC) – have established three clear types of faculty advisors, who are given specific training to deal with their segments’ student issues. Advisors are trained to be first-semester experience advisors, on-track advisors, or “problem experts” who are called in when students fall off track. The goal of the latter is to work to get students back on track as quickly as possible.
St. Petersburg College – intentionally created their pathways as an ordinal list of the 21 courses required to complete the AA or AS degree. This means that their required courses and recommended electives are placed in order on a list that is provided to students (and to faculty and advisors), which makes it easier for students to see what they need to do even if they don’t pass a course.
Florida State and Georgia State – markers / milestones for success are clearly identified in all degree programs, and when students miss these markers / milestones (which are course-taking related as well as outside the classroom), they are called in for mandatory advising to get them back on track. Additionally, if staying “off-path” continues, students are encouraged to seek out a path in which they may have a greater chance of success.
Finally, I’d suggest that we’ve always had to deal with this problem in cohort-based CTE programs when a course was not passed, so we can look there for guidance as well.
#3 – What happens if students change their minds? Do they have to start over?
This one is maybe the most common question of these ten new ones, at least in my experience. This is a quicker answer, because if students change their minds, they absolutely don’t have to start over. This is another guided pathways question / concern that has a helpful analogue in current practice. Currently when students shift a major say from Chemistry to Psychology, they need (hopefully with an advisor) to figure out which requirements follow them – usually the majority of their general education courses, and which requirements they will have to “start over” – likely the discipline-specific courses in Psychology they haven’t taken yet.
Under a guided pathways approach with program maps that delineate a clear set of program-specific and general education elective courses, if a student changes after semester 3 from Chemistry to Psychology, the same conditions as above would apply. In this scenario the student certainly took a number of general education elective courses on the Chemistry pathway in their first three semesters in addition to their specific discipline courses in Chemistry, and those general education requirements would be considered as met on the Psychology program map, even if the courses weren’t exactly the recommended set on the Psychology map. The student would of course need to complete the Psychology-specific requirements, but this is no different than a student changing majors under a traditional cafeteria model.
Hopefully, in a guided pathways approach, it would actually be easier for a student and/or an advisor to figure out how to make the transition, given that both pathways are clearly mapped. In addition, with well-constructed “meta-majors” or “career-focus areas” with common or relatively common first semesters of courses for students, more students will be making informed decisions earlier in their programs about where they will specialize within a broad career focus area and won’t have to “change” programs as a result.
OK then – we are off on the new journey. I’m of course a big geek, because I love exploring these questions with you. Next time we will address three questions (#4 - #6) primarily around the role of faculty and the interaction between faculty and guided pathways reform efforts.