Pathway Analyses

To strengthen students’ pathways to completion, colleges need to have a clear understanding of how their students progress through the institution, where they struggle, and how their forward progress can be improved. CBD created the “Loss/Momentum Framework” (LMF) to help colleges systematically examine their students’ academic progress at each phase of a student’s experience, from first connection with the college to degree completion, and to better understand the factors that help or hinder students as they make their way through college.
Adult basic skills programs:

An instructional program for adults that includes courses designed to improve basic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Associate's degree:

An award earned for satisfactory completion of at least 2, but usually less than 4 years of full-time equivalent college work. CBD colleges report completions of Associate in Arts (A.A.), Associate in Science (A.S.), and Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees, and analysis can be conducted separately.


Students who attempt at least 9 college-level semester credits (usually equivalent to 3 courses) in a given program area in a given time period, whether or not they successfully complete them.

Bachelor's degree:

An award earned for satisfactory completion of 4 years of full-time equivalent college-level work. In some cases, students may complete their 4 years of college-level work in 3 years.


A formal award certifying the satisfactory completion of a postsecondary education program. CBD collects completions of less-than-1-year, and 1- to 2-year certificates, and analysis can be conducted separately.


A cohort is a group of people studied during a period of time. The individuals in the group have at least one statistical factor—such as when they started college—in common. Tracking a cohort makes it possible to compare progress and outcomes of different groups of students (i.e., groups defined by race, age or other demographic characteristics) and to determine if there are gaps in achievement among groups of interest. CBD cohorts include students who attempted at least one course during their first term in the following areas:

  • College (certificate or degree) credit
  • College remedial or developmental
  • Adult basic skills (ESL, ABE, or ASE/GED)
  • Non-credit vocational (includes courses that could potentially lead to an occupational certificate or certification, but does not include personal interest courses)
Completion by Design:

A five year initiative designed to help low-income young adults progress through community college more quickly and with a greater chance of success. The initiative’s goal is to substantially increase the completion and graduation rates for large number of students while holding down college costs and maintaining the quality of programs and services.

Completion pathway:

The integrated set of policies, practices, programs, and processes intentionally designed to maximize student completion across the loss-momentum framework.


Students who successfully complete (with a grade of C or better) at least 9 college-level semester credits (usually equivalent to 3 courses) in a program area, in a given time period.

Dual enrollment:

A program that allows students to enroll in college courses while still enrolled in high school.

Entry-level courses:

The first or lowest-level college-level course students take in a subject such as mathematics, reading, or writing. (See Gateway courses.)

First-time in College:

A student who enrolls for the first time in college during the academic year with no previous college level experience or credential.


CBD considers a student enrolled full-time if he or she attempts 12 or more semester or quarter credits in a given term.

Gatekeeper courses:

The first or lowest-level college-level course students take in a subject such as mathematics, reading, or writing. (See Entry-level courses.)

Key Performance Indicators:

A set of metrics designed to measure students’ progress at each point of the institutions’ connection with the student—connection, entry, progress, and completion. KPIs are used to monitor institutional performance and the effects of improvement strategies to track student progression through academic milestones.

Loss points:

Points in a student’s academics where he/she losses academic momentum, or falls off his/her educational pathway.

Loss/Momentum Framework:

The guiding framework for Completion by Design, which is comprised of four stages that capture the student experience: 1) Connection (interest to application), 2) Entry (enrollment to completion of gateway courses), 3) Progress (steady progress toward completing program requirements), and 4) Completion (completion of program of value for further education and employment).


Measurable educational achievements that include both conventional terminal completions, such as earning a credential or transferring to a baccalaureate program, and intermediate outcomes, such as completing developmental education or adult basic skills requirements.

Momentum points:

Measurable educational attainments, such as completing a college-level math course, that are empirically correlated with the completion of a milestone.


Students who did not attempt at least 9 college-level credits (usually the equivalent of three courses) in any program area in a given period of time.


Students who attempt to enter a concentration but do not successfully pass at least 9 semester credits (usually the equivalent of three courses) in a given time period.

Occupational certificate:

A program of study consisting of one or more courses, designed to prepare students for employment in a specific field.


CBD considers a student enrolled part-time if he or she attempts less than 12 semester or quarter credits in a given term.

Pathway analyses:

A tool that uses college data to pinpoint the dynamics of student loss and momentum from connection through completion.

Program of study:

A set of courses and related activities that lead to an attainment of educational objectives such as a certificate or an associate’s degree, sometimes referred to as “major” or “program code”.

Student Completion Metrics:

A set of metrics designed to measure highest educational outcomes achieved over a specific period of time. Usually computed for cohorts of students, especially those with no prior college experience for comparative purposes.

Student Pathway:

The route a student takes to connect with, enter, progress through, and complete his/her program of study.


A student who stops studying at the home institution and enrolls at another institution.

Overview Of Sections

  • “Students must enter a program of study to earn a credential….It is critical that they do so as quickly as possible. Students who do not enter a program of study within a year of enrollment are far less likely to ever enter a program and therefore less likely to complete and earn a credential.”
    —Jenkins and Cho, Get With the Program: Accelerating Community College Students' Entry Into and Completion of Programs of Study

  • Many community college students are frustrated and confused by the large variety of options community colleges offer. Particularly in transfer programs, the paths they need to follow are often poorly defined, with many electives and little guidance on which to take. This leads students to take courses that do not count toward their intended degree program, which can add semesters or years to their time to completion. Many students become frustrated and quit, or transfer to another two- or four-year institution. The LMF is a tool that provides colleges with the capability to determine where students become sidetracked or fall off the path to completion. Colleges can use this information, in turn, to design more coherent pathways for students toward their end goals.

  • The LMF allows colleges to trace students’ experiences on their academic paths, and determine how policies, programs, practices, and processes affect students’ progress, and potential areas for losses or momentum gains. By identifying where students fall short, colleges will then be able to examine the reasons why. Conducting methodical pathways analyses using the LMF will provide evidence needed to enable colleges to pinpoint barriers to success. The next step is for colleges to diagnose barriers to advancement, and develop strategies for overcoming those barriers.

  • Understanding the Student Experience Through the Loss/Momentum Framework: Clearing the Path to Completion: Describes a process for examining students’ experiences and identifying factors that enable and impede student progress, and using these insights to determine areas where the college can work to improve student outcomes.

    Get With the Program: Accelerating Community College Students’ Entry into and Completion of Programs of Study: Presents the results of research tracking the progress and outcomes of first-time college students over five years. The research examines patterns of student entry into programs of study, and the relationship between program entry and credential completion.

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