What is Guided Pathways?

The other day a student asked me to explain Guided Pathways to him. I used the following severely outdated analogy: Remember when it was really hard to buy airplane tickets? It used to be so complicated with all the different class options and connection possibilities that you had to hire a travel agent to do it for you. Then airlines figured out how to present the options more clearly. Now we all buy tickets online and it’s easy. College should be the same way. The actual classes should stay rigorous but the process for figuring out where you are going and how you plan to get there should be easier.

I asked the guy how he got started here. He said he and a friend were thinking of coming to school here so they drove to the college to check it out. They walked around campus for three hours before they figured out where to start the application process. He said every part of the process was complicated: financial aid, placement testing, figuring out what classes to take, starting in pre-college math, what books to buy, choosing a major, etc. He said this whole Guided Pathways thing sounded like a good idea.

Guided Pathways is very simply the idea that we ought to make the path through college from start to finish clear to students. That’s it. College is not a well-designed system. It’s evolved into an overly complicated system that dissuades people who don’t already know how to navigate it or who lack the confidence needed to weather all the little roadblocks and confusions. Our mission is to make higher ed accessible to the whole community. It’s time we re-evaluated what we’re doing to make sure it actually is accessible.

If you read Redesigning America’s Community Colleges (available at the EvCC library!), the Community College Research Center (CCRC) folks recommend many ways we can make students’ paths through college clearer. You can think of it in terms of broad categories:

  • Getting students started on their path (enrolling, placement, developmental ed, etc)
  • Clarifying the path (advising, curriculum guides, restructuring majors into meta-majors to prevent lost credits as students choose a major, etc)
  • Keeping students on the path (program advising, academic warning, etc)
  • Aligning pathways with careers (program outcomes and assessment, transfer advising, etc)

Over the break, while you are hopefully lounging on a sunny beach sipping a margarita, give some thought as to how we can use this Guided Pathways philosophy to help students at EvCC. The Board of Trustees and administration are solidly behind this but they want the faculty to lead this change. This is not a quick fix thing like common course numbers. This is a rethinking of how we do things. The goal for spring quarter is to have lots of conversation all over campus about what areas need improving and then to collect ideas for what we might tackle first. The formal venues for this are the book clubs which you’ll be hearing about from Anne Brackett soon. Reading the book (Redesigning America’s Community Colleges) is good. Looking at what other colleges are doing is good. Reflecting on the experiences of your students is very good, especially those students you had that did not make it all the way down their college pathway.

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