An Uncompromising Focus on Student Success

by Dr. Donald Guy Generals

In preparation for the complete rollout of Guided Pathways, now is a good time to reflect on the progress and potential challenges. Outcomes from early adopters, in conjunction with our own insights, can be instructive.

A recent study conducted by the Community College Resource Center (CCRC)—“What Do Students Think of Guided Pathways?”—examined the outcomes of City Colleges of Chicago. City Colleges of Chicago is a large, urban community college system with seven campuses. As one of the early adopters of the Guided Pathways model, they have made progress in a number of areas but readily acknowledge challenges before them. Among their successes are improved average graduation rates from 7 percent to 17 percent. One of their seven colleges—Kennedy King—had a graduation rate that rose to 26 percent, and they were nominated as an Aspen Institute top 10 finalist. The college was awarded with the Rising Star Award

The CCRC Research Brief sought to examine the student experience in their study of the Chicago community colleges. Using one-on-one interviews with a controlled sample of 149 students, they inquired about the total student experience, including their decision to attend college, their experience with the intake process and the various stages of advisement (J. Fink, June, 2017).

From the original 149, the research group narrowed their cohort to 48 students who had knowledge about Guided Pathways and the related implementation. These students had precise opinions about the purpose of Guided Pathways, its implementation and the prospective outcomes of a Guided Pathways approach. The students’ opinions were varied, but they focused on the basic elements of Guided Pathways: advisement, technology enhancements, educational and career planning, and proactive advisement. The large majority (77 percent) had a positive impression about the pathways features, its intent and the expected outcomes. Some students expressed concerns with the operational aspects of the rollout and the lack of coordination between departments in matters related to the changes. However, they viewed those challenges as temporary and attributed the problems to the lack of preparation during the run-up to implementation.

Many students expressed a need for more guidance and time with their advisors. They considered the advisors as integral to their success and the success of the reform effort. According to the research findings: “…Most opinionated students we interviewed voiced appreciation for the program maps, educational plans, and information about their program progress, often mentioning heightened motivation, increased confidence, and even a sense of relief as a result of having a plan…” As we continue to roll out the various facets of Guided Pathways, it is critically important for everyone to familiarize themselves with the goals and the expected outcomes of this important student success initiative.