Guided Pathways is not a particularly new idea, but it is rapidly becoming the buzzword for universities and colleges attempting to improve student outcomes. With graduation rates remaining stagnant and funding dollars directly tied to this key metric, institutions are doing everything they can to move the needle.
One of the biggest challenges higher education students face is financial limitations. They rightly save and budget for what they believe their education will cost. If they didn’t consider all of the extraneous costs and/or enroll in courses that aren’t necessary or do not qualify for financial aid, they can quickly find themselves in over their heads. Some students often traverse through a portion of their educational journey before realizing their savings are depleted. In order to complete their degree requirements, they will have to pay for an entire extra year they didn’t bargain for, thus leading to dropouts.
Guided Pathways is an initiative to solve some of the biggest pain points students (and therefore, institutions) have – those roadblocks that contribute to students giving up and leaving school before they’ve reached graduation. By laying out the most efficient path towards graduation, step by step, and providing the needed support along the way, institutions hope to boost student success by improving outcomes.
California is an example of one state that is taking Guided Pathways seriously. According to an article from EdSource, California had 2 million students in the state’s community college system in 2016 and just 48 percent of them left with a degree or certificate, or transferred after six years. California’s community college board plans to leverage the Guided Pathway concept to help its 114 community colleges in 72 districts reach several lofty goals:
Why the urgency? By 2030, California reports it will need 1.1 million additional workers with bachelor’s degrees to remain economically competitive – just the motivation the board needs to jump on the Guided Pathways bandwagon.
California isn’t alone in recognizing the future needs of its state. A CareerBuilder study discovered that 61 percent of hiring managers across the country are requiring higher-level education to fill their skilled positions. Similarly, new research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently found 55 percent of well-paying jobs in today’s economy are going to workers who have four-year or associate degrees.
“Americans with no more than a high school diploma have fallen so far behind college graduates in their economic lives that the earnings gap between college grads and everyone else has reached its highest point on record.” – CBS News
Higher learning institutions are the breeding ground for our economy. Without these higher education degrees and skills, the nation will become less competitive, less innovative and less able to fill the positions of tomorrow.
A Guided Pathway program may not solve every challenge of improving student outcomes, but it is giving higher education institutions a reason to be optimistic. By providing students with clear roadmaps, creating on and off ramps for their success, and establishing a support system at every level of their journey, students and institutions are experiencing much greater success rates.
There is plenty to understand about Guided Pathways, but here are three critical elements to help shape your perspective:
Every student comes to school with different needs, life situations and goals. Their Guided Pathway should be just as unique. It should not be a one-size-fits-all solution, while at the same time, institutions don’t need to recreate the wheel for each student. Implement a set of standardized processes and technologies that provide the foundation for which customized paths can be designed. For instance, full-time students will have a different roadmap than part-time students holding down a job or caring for a family.
Just as in life, circumstances frequently change. Things don’t always follow a plan. Guided Pathways are flexible, meant to enable students to visualize and conceptualize a multitude of possible routes to their end goal of graduation. The best pathways offer students the ability to play “what if” scenarios so they can see how taking a course (or not) will impact their goals, budgets and timelines. They can play around with their schedules and sequencing of courses. The key is that the pathway is intentional, focused and informative – giving the student everything they need to make the best decisions for themselves.
A student’s educational journey is complex. They need support, resources and services to help them through each step. From admissions to financial aid, from course enrollment to degree planning, students need advisors, technology and access to information. The more they are connected to their institutions and the easier those connections can be had, the greater the chances students will flourish. Students should never get lost or feel alone during their journey. Schools must partner with students to get them from point A to point B, even if it’s vis a vis point C.
Whichever way you approach guiding your students through their pathway of education, be sure to keep them first. Design programs and support services around their needs and what specifically they require in order to be successful.
Is it streamlining and easing the financial aid process? Will providing them real-time access to their financial aid and course eligibility information be a benefit? Would equipping students with mobile access to perform most of the many required administrative tasks save them time? How would sending students push notifications to remind them of upcoming due dates impact follow-through? Would identifying at-risk students early on and then providing the necessary support to get them back on track improve outcomes?
These are but a few of the advantages a solid Guided Pathway program can bring students while enabling institutions to be more responsive to student needs. Take a look at available and emerging technologies to discover how your institution can deliver more than just lip service but a truly guided pathway towards graduation.