Just two weeks ago, we welcomed more than 70 community college presidents and vice presidents to our offices in Washington, D.C. for the 2016 Navigate Summit. For me, these meetings always feel like a homecoming as I get to see the familiar faces of our founding members and welcome new college leaders to the Collaborative for the first time. The energy from our shared commitment to innovation and student success was palpable—and fueled us throughout two days of learning.
In this setting, we grappled with some hard truths: the role of community colleges in today’s higher education ecosystem, the evolving vocabulary of top challenges, and the path to achieving institutional goals.
A critical moment in the two-year sector
In her "State of the Sector" presentation, Carla Hickman from the Community College Executive Forum examined the past 100 years in the two-year sector. Since the birth of the sector, we’ve seen an explosion in the number of colleges and rising college-going rates, and we’ve achieved the mission of broad access to higher education.
Today, college leaders serve much more diverse populations than ever before, which comes with new challenges in recruiting, serving, and graduating students. College leaders have to ask difficult questions about which students they can serve, and how they can hold on to them.
Growing Challenges Facing Community Colleges
College leaders face headwinds from all sides
The vast majority of colleges are experiencing severe enrollment declines on their campuses, which is often chalked up to shrinking high school classes and adult learners returning to the workforce in droves. But during the summit, we also discussed how competition—from both four-year universities and proprietary institutions—is changing the game for the two-year sector.
Competing for Fewer and More Tech-Savvy Students
In today’s online world, one in four prospects report using only the Internet to research schools; in many respects, for-profit institutions have done the best job of traditional recruitment through expensive digital marketing outreach.
Well-funded colleges may be tempted to out-spend their competitors by doubling down on traditional media marketing (e.g., billboards, free mailers), but the best colleges show restraint and look beyond marketing. We discussed the power of “customer service’” in the earliest touch-points with students, proving that inquiry responses and value statements matter and can make the difference in winning enrollments.
Look Beyond Marketing to Prove Value to New Students
Ever-expanding definition of student success has led to an amorphous, ill-defined solution
The definition of ”student success” has evolved over the history of community colleges. For a while, two-year colleges focused on expanding access to higher education, then expanded their sights to include retention through to graduation. Now they also grapple with preparing students for their post-graduate goals. Today’s definition of student success is large, amorphous, and difficult to define neatly.
It’s no wonder, then, that the newest proposed solution, Guided Pathways, is equally difficult to define. With its attempt to address the top attrition factors with clear academic pathways, wraparound student support, and a commitment to measurable learning outcomes, the model—or at least the promise of the model—has become a ”silver bullet” across the sector.
4 ways Disney World can inspire your Guided Pathways strategy
To implement Guided Pathways on campus, however, you need a common language for administrators, staff, and faculty to discuss the initiative. That can be difficult. To start the discussion across EAB, we chose to adopt AACC’s Pathways Model definition.
What Do We Mean When We Say Guided Pathways?
Even the most progressive college leaders grapple with Guided Pathways
My biggest surprise from the summit was how many questions members had about implementing Guided Pathways. Granted, the popular discourse is vague, confusing, and sometimes conflicting—so it is no wonder most community college leaders are wondering how best to implement the initiative.
The summit served as an opportunity to learn from colleagues who have made progress in bringing Guided Pathways to life on their campuses. Members shared plans to leverage SSC-Navigate to achieve each goal of the initiative:
- Clarify pathways to end goals
- Help students choose and enter a pathway
- Help students stay on path
- Ensure all students are learning
Q&A: How does Northern Virginia Community College implement Pathways?
However, questions remained about critical change management decisions that come with Guided Pathways implementation: How do we engage faculty? When should students select a major? What wraparound student services do students need? What’s the best communication plan to spread awareness about the concept? What academic changes do we need to make to streamline our pathways? The list goes on.
However uncomfortable it is to adopt an initiative without a playbook in hand, Guided Pathways presents an exciting opportunity for radical change—truly "building the car as you drive it." And those in the "driver’s seat" are free to innovate as they implement.