The guided pathways model is quickly gaining traction among community colleges, and for good reason. It simplifies the experience for students and emphasizes their goals. Following the guided pathways model, Monroe Community College (MCC) and Alamo Colleges boost engagement by guiding students down clearly marked pathways to success. In both cases, Emsi Career Coach plays a vital role in helping students choose the pathway that’s best for them.
Guided Pathways: Providing Clear Signposts
What does a college education get you? A good life experience? A good job? Because of the complexity of higher education in the United States, many students don’t understand how their coursework relates to the career they want—even if they know what career to pursue.
Guided pathways cuts the confusion out of students’ academic journeys. Instead of zigging and zagging from one course to another—expending time, energy, and money—guided pathways gives students a clear route from point A to point B. But to follow that route, students first need to know what point B is—they need to choose a career path.
Career Coach is the perfect fit here. It creates a clear connection between programs and career opportunities. Details about local demand, pay, and required education help students make critical career choices. Combined with guided pathways, Career Coach equips students with the knowledge and tools they need to achieve their academic and career goals.
Effecting Change at Scale in Community Colleges
The guided pathways model aims for massive, systemic change. Reorganizing a single college from the cafeteria model to a guided pathways model requires time, collaboration, and focus. Reorganizing multiple colleges or campuses compounds the difficulty, but the hard work provides students with a better experience. As guided pathways pilot schools, MCC and Alamo Colleges serve as prime examples for leading institutional change.
MCC and Alamo Colleges implemented guided pathways in different ways. The overall goal of clear pathways may remain the same, but the nomenclature and processes of guided pathways are not universal.
Alamo Colleges uses institutes as their version of meta-majors. Students must choose which of the six institutes they will join when they apply to Alamo Colleges. Interestingly, Alamo Colleges completely removed traditional majors from their academic programs. MCC also has six different schools in their new academies model that are roughly analogous to Alamo Colleges’ institutes. However, students at MCC have one semester before they need to choose which school to join. Distilling different majors and courses into these six broad meta-majors wasn’t easy for either of these community colleges.
“We’re five independently accredited colleges, so it’s not like we have one system and can make a decision and everybody has to follow it. You have to work collaboratively and intentionally with the end in mind to get five colleges to agree. It’s been a challenging journey with bumps in the road, but with all the perspectives on the table and everyone focused on the purpose, we are moving forward,” says Patricia Parma, District Director of Student Success Initiatives at Alamo Colleges.
“People have been willing to engage in conversation and dialogue because they understand that this is all about making this experience the best it could possibly be for every single one of our students,” says Karen McCarthy, an MCC Administrator. By putting students first, faculty and staff find common ground to work from.
“This really went beyond looking at what’s in which department and what’s in which division and we said ‘what would make sense for students?’”
At Alamo Colleges, the focus is making sure students get what they came for: credentials that further students’ goals. Whether it be transferring to a four-year university or getting a job right away, credentials are a pathway to the goal, not the goal itself.
“If you graduate from high school with a STEM endorsement, this is the pathway you can follow at Alamo Colleges. On the other end of it, we would show how that then goes to the universities and then, from there, even into the workforce,” says Parma.
Both MCC and Alamo colleges have a history of putting students first. We’ve explored how MCC fills local skills gaps to help students enter a strong local job market. Likewise, Alamo Colleges uses Career Coach as a student development tool, putting student career goals front and center.
Defining the Finish Line
At both Alamo Colleges and MCC, there’s a heavy emphasis on identifying career fields early. “This is completely 180 degrees on what we used to do,” says Parma.
“I was a counselor at one of the colleges for over 20 years. When a student walked in, the first question you asked was ‘what’s your major?’ We really don’t have those conversations at this point. Right now, the conversation is ‘what are you interested in? What did you do in high school? Did you like it or not?’ So instead of a student coming in and having it all academic focused, it’s more career focused. And then we’ll make sure you get the academic preparation you need to get you to that career.”
MCC also helps students quickly identify career goals so that they have something real to strive for. “One of the things that we want to make sure students understand is ‘your coursework is relevant, so develop those end goals and develop them early on,’” explains McCarthy.
“A big piece of this is going to be allowing our students to take a look at ‘why am I here, what do I want to do in the future, and how do I get there through MCC?’ So Career Coach is going to be extremely important to what we’re doing.”
One of the major reasons Alamo removed majors from their programs is that students often didn’t understand how majors related to careers. Degrees don’t map directly to occupations, so students often have a hard time reconciling the jobs they’ve heard about with the majors their schools offer. They can’t figure out which major best fits their interests and the things they want to do. Parma relates,
“I get students coming in all the time saying ‘I want to major in criminal justice because I want to be, you know, CSI.’ It’s whatever’s popular on TV. ‘I really want to be a CSI agent.’ So I say, well, you don’t major in criminal justice to be a CSI agent. That’s all chemistry and biology. It’s all kinds of stuff. They hire accountants more than any other major—that’s who they hire. But our students don’t know that.”
Career Coach works in concert with the guided pathways model to resolve this issue by informing the career exploration process for students and making clear connections between programs and occupations. It helps students and advisors plan for point B and define the finish line.
While it’s still too early to see exactly how these structural changes have affected student outcomes at MCC and Alamo Colleges, putting the students and their goals first makes the guided pathways model hard to bet against.
For more information on how your institution or organization can use Career Coach or Emsi’s other labor market tools and services, please contact us. Follow Emsi on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.