As Community College of Philadelphia prepared for the 2016-2017 academic year, it placed the focus on learning — by faculty and staff — to develop collaborative networks to guide more students toward their academic and career goals.
The College is entering into its first full academic year of implementing the highly-touted Guided Pathways model to scale, and yesterday Dr. Rob Johnstone, one of the nation’s foremost authorities, sought to demystify the concept by offering four streamlined principles.
“Have a structure. Help students get in a (career and academic) program earlier. Make sure they’re making progress. And keep the focus on learning,” suggested Dr. Johnstone, founder and president of the Bay Area-based National Center for Inquiry & Improvement, which works with two- and four-year institutions to create structures and processes that increase student completion, learning and labor market outcomes. “If you do all four of those things at scale, you will see what’s possible.”
On Sept. 6, the College will welcome thousands of new students who will begin their journey with more personalized services and, eventually, curriculum mapping. They, as well as many returning students, will be beneficiaries of a growing field of support practices birthed as part of the Guided Pathways movement. Among the major changes this year, the College hired seven new full-time faculty advisors to help new students map out more direct paths to graduation, transfer or certificate completion.
In 2015, the College was one of 30 community colleges invited to join the Pathways Project led by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).The groundbreaking national initiative will implement guided academic and career pathways at scale — for all students.
This initiative reinforces ongoing efforts to create a holistic, streamlined educational approach to learning and student services, which seek to help students circumvent barriers and obstacles. In the past, Johnstone said, many institutions operated under a cafeteria model, where students got to pick and choose from dozens of course offerings, but were paralyzed by the dizzying array of choicest.
Dr. Johnston asked the capacity crowd in the Winnet Student Life Building’s Great Hall to do an interactive exercise, by which they created a word cloud through text messaging to describe what they thought would be the mindset of new community college students. “Excited,” “scared,” “unsure,” “nervous” and “confused” were some of the adjectives that emerged.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Dr. Johnstone said, adding that students need deep connections with professors or other academic mentors who are invested in their success; a cohort of peer support, and an established curriculum that paves out a goal, whether it be academic or career-focused. They need coaching, much like athletes, who are more likely to take advantage of extra supports they are offered.
In this new guided pathways system, faculty and staff have to become “change experts”, Dr. Johnstone added, to help students achieve, and sometimes, adjust their academic goals. As an example, he cited nursing programs that have limited space available in each new class, yet thousands of students trying to enter on the pre-nursing career path. He recommended honest
and difficult conversations with those students who are not likely to meet the academic requirements for admission.
At the College, specially trained allied health counselors are available to help students select a nursing or allied health career for which they meet the academic requirements. These counselors hold information sessions to familiarize potential applicants to the select nursing and allied health programs, according to Dr. Barbara McLaughlin, chair of the College’s Department of Nursing.
In his remarks, President Donald Guy Generals noted social justice issues and challenges also may present a barrier to degree attainment. Amid the growing chorus of national discontent, faculty should be prepared to discuss those issues in classrooms, he said.
From their inception, community colleges were founded on the principles of social justice — as open access to education democratized higher education, which, at one time, primarily served the wealthy.
“The idea of community colleges taking the lead on issues of social justice, “clearly articulates the importance of education as it relates to the democracy of our nation,” Dr. Generals said. “We have to be mindful. If we can’t make the issues of social justice and racism go away, then the rest of the world is going to struggle.”