Guided Pathways isn't just a trendy buzzword: It's a movement

A new approach to structuring academic programs challenges the notion that more options are better for students.

The Guided Pathways movement first began when the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) realized that their robust array of course options had a few downsides: students couldn't figure out which courses to take each semester, and their academic advisors couldn't decide which to recommend. To help students sort through their options, CCBC leaders prescribing specific course sequences to each of their 151 majors.

Some of CCBC's faculty members were hesitant about the Guided Pathways approach at first. Administrators won them over with 100 student transcripts, which showed that over a third of students had taken enough wrong courses in their first year to delay their graduation by a full semester. Eliminating the possibility for such "horrendous mistakes," as Mark McColloch, the vice president for instruction at CBCC called them, was worth the effort.

Guided Pathways gained traction when the Community College Research Center published a book in 2015, titled Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success. The book's recommendations have contributed to the Guided pathways movement, which is now spreading to:

  • The 30 colleges in 17 states taking part in the American Association of Community College (AACC)'s Pathways Project, which began in 2015;
  • Texas, where the AACC's project has inspired a statewide focus on using Guided Pathways to increase retention and close the achievement gap between minority and white students;
  • California, where 20 community colleges were selected this month to participate in the California Guided Pathways Project, also inspired by AACC's Pathways Project;
  • Georgia State University, where the use of data analytics to improve graduation rates is going hand-in-hand with the move toward increased structure; and
  • Danville Community College, and many more of EAB's member institutions who are implementing the online system Navigate to help students find their pathways, choose their majors, and ultimately zero in on their career goals.

Though the course sequences themselves are at the heart of the Guided Pathways approach, colleges embracing the movement are also:

  • Revamping advising programs;
  • Creating career-focuses clusters called "meta-majors";
  • Restructuring—or fully giving up—remedial education programs; and
  • Encouraging students to take more than 12 credits each semester.

For those still skeptical that Guided Pathways restrict student experience, Melinda Salaman, a director of strategic research at EAB, suggests thinking of the movement a bit like a trip to Disney World—visitors still get to choose their own adventures, they just have all the tools they need to make the best possible itinerary for their trip (Mangan, Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/25).

Learn more: Get a 21-page compilation of our best resources on building Guided Pathways

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