Advising season mayhem: why we need a Guided Pathways approach

It’s Week 10 and I’m still getting students in for third quarter mandatory advising. Though it’s time consuming, advising students is one of the most satisfying parts of my job. This is the only time I talk with students one on one about their lives, their goals.

When I first started learning about Guided Pathways, I thought many of the suggestions were too simple to be useful. But this quarter’s advising has proven otherwise. There are some simple things we can do as a college to make things better for students.

For example, I had THREE students come in the week before graduation applications were due terrified that they weren’t going to graduate. “Degree Audit says I still need 40 credits!” Upon closer inspection I found that Degree Audit apparently didn’t get completely updated when we switched to common course numbering. So according to Degree Audit, the whole Engineering Physics series and two out of three Calculus classes weren’t counting towards their degrees. This has happened in the past and I took my usual approach which is to reassure the student that they really have met the degree requirements and that they really will be able to graduate. But after the third student in a row with this problem left, it occurred to me that if we just updated Degree Audit with current course numbers a whole lot of people wouldn’t get freaked out. This seems like a pretty easy thing to do, but I suspect no one has pushed it to happen because we’re all too busy.

Another example, a colleague who is new to advising messaged me to ask if we still offer Phys& 221. My knee-jerk reaction was to look down my nose at this person for not just knowing that it’s now called Phys& 241 (in case you don’t already know this, Physicists are self-righteous jerks). But then I looked through all the curriculum guides in the Math & Science Division and saw that there are several with at least one major course typo. Of course this colleague didn’t know the course number changed; that happened several years ago now. And it occurred to me that there is no way a student would know that either. Furthermore, students seem to need a translator for many curriculum guides. This is a good indicator that the student’s pathway is not clear to them.

In Redesigning America’s Community Colleges I read that the average associates degree holder earns 12% more credits than required by their program. I’ve never concerned myself with people taking extra classes before, but this quarter when I advised students I saw so many useless credits on people’s transcripts. “Why did you take this class?” I would ask. “Someone told me to take it” (Computer Science major taking Computer Literacy 101) or “I figured any Criminal Justice class would count for Social Science credit” (Computer Science major taking CJ 203, which by the way he said is an awesome class) or “I took Calculus in high school but the placement test said I should take this math class so I did” (Physics major taking Math 141). While all learning is good, none of these were cases where students were exploring career paths. None of these classes are going to count towards these students’ degrees at the associates or bachelors level aside from being miscellaneous electives. These students started with a clear goal but no one helped them figure out the pathway at EvCC for achieving that goal. If I had talked to these students two quarters ago they could’ve taken classes that go towards their degrees. The physics student in particular is gonna lose almost an entire year by starting in that math class. My experience during this quarter’s advising week definitely fit with that 12% statistic.

None of these observations were new. But it’s only now that I’m realizing that we don’t have to keep things this way. It’d be easy to change some of this stuff and it would mean a lot to the students.

The main idea behind Guided Pathways is to make the students’ pathway through college more easy to understand and follow. It’s not an initiative so much as a better philosophy to help us with what we already do. Our students are not getting lost because they are unintelligent or lazy. They’re getting lost because no one taught them “how to college”, or more specifically “how to EvCC”.

What can you do? Check the curriculum guides in your area of expertise for correct course numbers and change those which are out of date. Update the list of advisors to reflect current advisors. For two year degrees does the curriculum guide show a typical two year program with specific classes listed? This is a form of a pathway which can help students know what to take and when.
What will I be doing? Researching what it would take to update Degree Audit to reflect current course offerings, and possibly calling on you all later for errors you’ve caught. Figuring out how a calculus-ready student got redirected into algebra and how to prevent that in the future.

How has “advising season” gone for your students? Leave a comment below.