The Provost's Corner: Guided Pathways at ACC - An ongoing journey

Despite significant efforts by talented and dedicated faculty, staff and administrators across our college for the past three years, we recognize that many still have questions about what Guided Pathways is and what it means for how we all think about and do our jobs.

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has a wonderful collection of resources concerning Pathways on its web site. The resources provide answers to such fundamental questions as: What is Guided Pathways?

"The guided pathways model is based on coherent and easy-to-follow college-level programs of study that are aligned with requirements for success in employment and at the next stage of education. Programs, support services, and instructional approaches are redesigned and re-aligned to help students clarify their goals, choose and enter pathways that will achieve those goals, stay on those pathways, and master knowledge and skills that will enable them to advance in the labor market and successfully pursue further education."

As with any movement, one of the first and most important questions is - Why is there a need for Guided Pathways? The Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University published the ground-breaking book "Redesigning America's Community Colleges" in 2015. In it, authors Tom Bailey, Davis Jenkins, and Shanna Jaggars point out that while American community colleges had successfully provided access to millions of students who might not have otherwise been able to attend higher education, the record of those colleges in helping students complete certificates, degrees, and transfer was not as successful. As at many colleges, ACC experienced graduation rates below state and national averages and students who completed degrees collected far too many credit hours, expending financial aid and accumulating debt.

The authors did not criticize the well-meaning efforts of dedicated community college faculty, staff, and administrators for the lack of student success. Instead, they criticized the structure and operations of community colleges, claiming that community colleges utilized a "cafeteria model," offering students a bewildering array of options without adequate assessment or advising related to students' needs and goals. Developmental education practices resulted in thousands of students falling through the cracks. The prevailing mode of instruction was one of transmitting information (lecture) to passive students as opposed to active and collaborative engagement of learners.

The resources cited above trace the origins and history of the Pathways movement. Here is a brief summary of our activities here at ACC:

  • 2016-2017: A Futures Institute of 24 faculty, staff, and students (chosen from 110 applicants) spent a year in study of Pathways, visited leading colleges across the nation, and reported back on how ACC might adapt the model for ACC. As a result, ACC took initial steps – creating 10 "meta-majors" or Areas of Study, creating AoS Information Sessions for all new students, and requiring a student success course during a new student's first semester to explore career options, learn about college resources, and gain student skills and strategies. ACC appointed an Assistant Dean for a Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL). ACC opened the ACCelerator, implementing a new approach to developmental math, utilizing adaptive software for individual learners.
  • 2017-2018: Program Maps were implemented for all instructional programs, intended to provide students with a clear guide to program purposes, course sequences, and connections to transfer and employment. Student services added many new advisers and clarified the role of advisors versus counselors. Representatives from the FCTL, together with the Provost, created Project ACC (Active and Collaborative Communities) to help select faculty redesign their courses. ACC led a consortium of community colleges in obtaining an Achieving the Dream grant to create Open Educational Resources (OER) for a complete degree to relieve students of the burdens of costly textbooks
  • 2018-2019: ACC expanded co-requisite math, providing "just in time" remediation to students taking developmental and an appropriate college level math concurrently. The same was done for integrated reading and writing students. ACC entered into additional co-enrollment programs with universities to help students gain a smoother transition to their chosen baccalaureate degrees. ACC secured approval of its first baccalaureate degree, helping registered nurses throughout Central Texas have a smoother, less costly path to a bachelor's of science degree in nursing.

These are just a few of the many highlights that our talented and dedicated faculty and staff have accomplished and the results are beginning to show!

  • From a 4 percent graduation rate, ACC has moved to a 12 percent graduation rate.
  • From less than 5,600 completers in 2014, ACC had 8,498 completers in 2018, a 52 percent increase.
  • Transfer rates have increased from 34 percent to 43 percent.

We are far from finished, however. We just hosted a Gates-funded film crew featuring five community colleges that are implementing Pathways. One of the questions I was asked is "When will Pathways be finished?" My response was immediate and emphatic – never! Not at least until we achieve 100 percent student success.

We have recently reorganized our academic structure – providing Department Chairs with additional release time, creating Assistant Deans to assist our Instructional Deans, and clarifying the roles of Assistant Chairs. We are also embarking on additional training – providing more effective on-boarding as well as ongoing professional development opportunities for all faculty and staff.

I am thrilled by the reception of most faculty and staff who have eagerly embraced these opportunities for further knowledge and skills about how they can contribute to greater student success. I thank you all for your tireless efforts and your positive attitudes. Let me know how I may assist you further as we continue our journey together!

- Charles M. Cook, Provost, EVP for Academic Affairs

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