Guided pathways gain traction, but some practices aren’t widespread: report

Dive Brief: 

  • Community colleges across the nation are making progress adopting guided pathways practices, which are promoted as a way to retain and graduate more students, according to a trio of new surveys from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE). 

  • On average, two-thirds of students at surveyed colleges said they were required to meet with an advisor before registering for classes, while a similar share said they had to follow an academic plan specifying which courses they needed to take — two hallmarks of guided pathways. 

  • Despite the uptake of guided pathways, the surveys identified several practices that aren’t yet widespread across community colleges. 

Dive Insight: 

Hundreds of community colleges have been implementing guided pathways in recent years as a way to help more students graduate on time. The model aims to help students develop a roadmap to reach their goals  such as transferring to a four-year college or entering a certain field  early in their education.

Common guided pathways practices include grouping similar programs into academic pathways, such as health and business, as well as advising incoming students on their educational goals and monitoring that they’re taking the classes needed to graduate on time. 

Some early adopters of guided pathways have seen improvements in completion and retention rates. Yet implementing all of the necessary changes takes time, and some practices have taken hold before others, said Linda García, CCCSE’s executive director. 

“We saw colleges start looking at advising as a first step to guided pathways,” she said. “We’re seeing more of the momentum there.” 

Among 166 surveyed colleges, an average of 76% of returning students said they met with an academic advisor at least once, and 59% said they reviewed their progress toward their academic plan each time they met in person with an advisor. 

However, García said there is still room for improvement. Among 117 surveyed colleges, an average of 43% of entering students said they rely on instructors or college staff as their main sources of college advising, while 44% use friends, family members and other students. 

Moreover, 74% of the students from that survey, on average, chose a job they wanted to pursue before registering for their first classes at the college, which could be an issue if they weren’t aware of all their career options, the report notes. And an average of 48% of the entering students said they hadn’t talked to a staff member about the types of jobs to which their programs might lead. 

“The conversation about careers — talking to students about jobs in their program, what it will lead to that needs to be more emphasized,” García said, adding that some students don’t have these discussions until they’re nearing the end of their education. 

The survey also suggests that institutions need to educate faculty and staff members about guided pathways. 

Among 73 surveyed colleges, 43% of faculty members said they didn’t know if their institution was in the process of implementing guided pathways, compared to 55% who said yes and 1% who said no. Faculty members were split on whether they thought they needed more professional guidance about their roles in guided pathways. 

“We need to be more intentional to include faculty, whether they’re part-time or they’re full-time, into the conversation,” García said, noting that instructors can prod students to go to tutoring and help them with potential challenges, such as a lack of access to technology. “It’s critical to have these connections in the classroom.”

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