Summary: This article examines the Guided Pathways model by analyzing the planning and implementation process of the model by Miami-Dade College. Following an analysis of the implementation process is a look at the measurable outcomes reported by community colleges and four-year institutions throughout the country, including Miami-Dade, that currently utilize this model. Lastly, leadership characteristics and behaviors of the Miami-Dade administration when implementing this model are discussed to illustrate that the Guided Pathways model is reliant on transformational leadership to work successfully.
Miami-Dade Community College Overview
In 1985, Miami-Dade Community College became the first community college in the United States to graduate 100,000 students. In the 25 years from its inception as Dade County Junior College, Florida’s first integrated college in 1960, the institution grew quickly. Campus after campus was added, serving a massive international population emigrating from Cuba and other nearby island countries that changed the campus’ demographic from predominately white American to predominately immigrant Hispanic and Black students less than ten years later (“Miami Dade College History”).
“Over thirty years, in a pioneering move to stabilize community college entrance and smooth the way for ultimate transfer, Miami Dade Community College developed a comprehensive program to screen students into certain courses at entry and monitor their progress throughout their tenure at the college (Cohen, Brawer & Kisker, 2014, p. 282).
In 1969, the 100,000th student was enrolled a year after the state separated the school from the governance of the public school system and designated it its own governing Board of Trustees. The college became more integrated into the community, developing extension centers within hospitals to house health service programs before dedicating entire campuses to selected industries. In 1973, the college became Miami Dade Community College, renamed Miami Dade College thirty years later.
However, despite rapid capacity growth, high enrollment and large graduation numbers, campus administration observed that small-scale innovations had not substantially improved student outcomes once students graduated or transferred out of the institution. (“Implementing Guiding Pathways”, 2015). In response, the administration decided to implement the Guided Pathways model in 2011, prefacing its implementation with one year of intense preparation.
The Planning and Implementation Process
The Guided Pathways model, as described in Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success (Bailey, Jaggars & Jenkins, 2015) is the recommended model by the authors to counter what is described in the book as a “cafeteria” styled approach to course offerings. Jenkins and Cho (2014) assert that, “Most community colleges offer a wide array of programs. Yet, colleges typically provide little guidance to help new students choose a program of student and develop a plan for completing it” (p.1). Guided Pathways is a course mapping system intended to make course selection a more coherent process by
- grouping courses according to industry paths and requiring students to choose an industry versus a major;
- advising students throughout their matriculation instead of making it optional or a one-hit opportunity at the beginning of the first-year experience, with no mandatory advising to follow and;
- ensuring students are taking courses that are transferrable to colleges in articulation agreement with other schools and/or fulfill their general education requirements.
“According to Bailey, a restructured college offers coherent programs of studies, helps students choose which path to enter and incorporates reforms that deal with the entire student experience, from entry to completion” (Ashford, 2015).
Miami-Dade formed work groups before developing and implementing their Guided Pathways model in 2011. Their work groups were intended to assess why students were not completing their academic programs. The groups included faculty, staff and hired consultants who were to specifically work on this assessment project. Findings suggested:
- There were gaps in the transition from developmental education and ESOL programs into college-level courses;
- Students were not being advised consistently;
- Students were not able to identify courses that were transferrable and, instead, were taking courses they wound up not needing because they were either not transferrable or did not meet a program’s requirements (“Implementing Guiding Pathways”, 2015, p. 1).
In addition to faculty playing a central role, staff engaged in institutional research were foundational to the project. While faculty were specific with the different courses their departments offered and had to form a consensus on what courses they felt best suited for a particular pathway, institutional research staff were able to provide data regarding student success in certain courses.
In one scenario, they were able to identify research-based evidence regarding which pre-requisites were actual predictors for success in higher level courses. “For instance, the business faculty surmised that students needed to take introductory college math (intermediate algebra, the highest level remedial math course) in order to perform well in business statistics. When the IR staff analyzed the data, however, it was evident that students who enrolled directly in the business statistics course did as well as students who first took intermediate algebra” (“Implementing Guided Pathways”, 2015, p. 3).
Finally, revamping of the college’s intake process was integral to the transition to a Guided Pathways model. Advisors, central to the process, were expected to engage with first-year students throughout the year. The school invested $1 million in hiring 25 full-time advisors to implement these efforts. The college planned pre-college advising and mandatory orientation component which would start with high school students. Late registration was eliminated and students would be encouraged to develop “individual academic plans” (“Implementing Guided Pathways”, 2015, p. 4). This coordinated effort between academic and student affairs demonstrated what Nevarez & Wood (2010) describes as moving towards “eliminating barriers to learning” (p.181). The move toward implementing the Guided Pathways model transformed the operational function of the college into a seamless unit “poised in educating the ‘whole’ student (Nevarez & Wood, p. 181). “Three years after the launch of the overall initiative, more than half of all faculty, staff and administrators are directly involved in one or more implementation activities, and many report that the change they are driving has become ingrained in the culture of the institution” (“Implementing Guided Pathways”, 2015, p. 7)
Measurable Outcomes of a Guided Pathway Model
Colleges that implemented a Guided Pathways Model were able to identify early-on positive measureable outcomes in the areas of retention, student morale and graduation rates.
In the five years since implementation of Guided Pathways at Miami-Dade College, early results indicate an “eight point surge in retention rates for students with assigned advisors, providing significantly positive revenue implications for subsequent terms” (Jameson-Meledy, 2016).
At the City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban university system in the United States, the Guided Pathways program used is called the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative and has resulted in “a graduation rate three times the national average for urban community colleges” (“Guided Pathways: Improving Completion”, 2016). Guttman Community College, part of the CUNY system, has documented that 35% of its students, compared to an average of 13% for other community colleges in larger cities, are more likely to graduate within a three-year goal utilizing the Guided Pathways model (“Guided Pathways: Improving Completion”, 2016). “By August 2014, 28 percent of Guttman’s inaugural 2012 entering class had completed an associate degree” (“What We Know About Guided Pathways, 2015, p. 6).
Queensborough Community College, another CUNY school, gathered qualitative data to assess student response to the new implementation. Data indicated that students reported that their chosen pathway—called an academy—gave them a sense of membership and belonging as a student and helped them better map out their college and professional career (Jenkins and Cho, 2014).
Despite recent attention to this model implementation in community colleges, four-year institutions have been, however, among the pioneers in developing the Guided Pathways approach (Jenkins & Cho, 2014, p. 3). Research indicates that Miami-Dade was following in the footsteps of four-year institutions like Florida State University, which had already begun almost ten years prior to use a mapping process to address the issue that students were graduating with more credits than needed.
Once implementing a mapping model, FSU found that “robust advising is particularly needed for transfer students, for other special populations, and for students who are not making progress or who fall off track. FSU officials contend that these efforts are at least part of the reason why the university has been able to improve retention rates and graduation rates for students overall and close the graduation rate gap between minority students and their peers” (Jenkins & Cho, 2014, p. 4)
At FSU, “Between 2000 and 2009, the year-to-year retention rate for first-time-in-college freshman increased from 86 to 92 percent, the four-year graduation rate increased from 44 to 61 percent, and the percentage of students graduating with excess credits dropped from 30 to 5 percent” (“What We Know About Guided Pathways”, 2015, p. 6).
Key Components of Successful Implementation of Guided Pathways Model
Miami Dade College’s combination adhocracy and clan culture supported the college president’s transformational leadership style in leading the project. This leadership style fosters service integration and cross-communication among departments and employees at different levels of authority and responsibility. Other institutions that have implemented a Guided Pathways model since 2000 or later include Long Beach City College, Valencia College, twenty-three of the twenty-eight independent community colleges in Michigan, and Pasadena City College. These colleges have implemented programs after collaborative assessment and planning that demonstrate the following aspects of the Guided Pathways Model:
- Simplified choices;
- Identified end goals—a clear alignment mapping the route to transfer to another institution, graduate from the current institution or transition into a career;
- Mandatory intake with advising and then,
- Monitored progress throughout matriculation;
- Revamped policy, programs and practices in tandem—ensuring that the process is comprehensive and not piecemeal;
- Facilitated collaboration among departments before and during implementation;
- Strong communication to students about the program before they arrive and throughout their matriculation (“Guided Pathways: Improving Completion”, 2016, p. 2).
The above components were achieved at Miami-Dade College when the college engaged in work groups that modeled a democratic approach which Nevarez and Wood (2010) describes as a “shared authority” model. At Miami-Dade, the college’s president Eduardo Padron “set the vision for the initiative and provided dedicated resources to support it”, including full-time staff to coordinate and implement each step and the hiring of 25 new full-time advisors. At the same time, student service staff and faculty were included in each step of the way, literally guiding and developing content from the bottom up (Implementing Guiding Pathways, 2015, p. 2).
While a democratic approach risks ambiguity and may lengthen the decision-making process (Nevarez & Wood, 2010, p. 63), Padron empowered employees at each level that they were engaged in an equitable process (Implementing Guiding Pathways, 2015). Kenneth Ender, president of Harper College in Illinois which began working on a plan to implement Guided Pathways last year supports this style of leadership for this process, commenting in an interview about Guided Pathways with CCDaily, “Once faculty understand what we’re really talking about, they won’t see it as a threat. Your faculty must be involved in this work from he get go you won’t succeed” (Ashford, 2015).
In closing, the Guided Pathways model goes beyond general education requirements that are requirements in the basic areas of English, Math, Science and the Arts/Physical Activity that all students must take regardless of major. Guided Pathways actually maps out a route for each student to successful transfer and/or graduation within a general course of study. The Truman Commission report indicated that, “General education was indeed similar to liberal education, but they insisted on a unity of knowledge—not necessarily the same courses for all students, but ‘from a consistency of aim that will infuse and harmonize all teaching and all campus activities’” (Hutcheson, p. 108). Guided Pathways model expands on this sentiment as the cited research infers that the model requires transformational leadership that is driven by collaboration across departments.
However, while the research indicated that the Guided Pathways model provides structure and convenience to counter a possible overwhelming offering of courses, the impact of this model on students who prefer cafeteria courses, are self-directed and more adept at interdisciplinary thinking in order to navigate and select on their own course options leading to graduation or transfer was not clear. In short, there does not appear to be an option within the model for students at the schools identified in this paper to choose to opt out of the course mapping. It is also not clear if improved retention rates cited included only students who utilized a mapping schedule throughout their matriculation or those who started and then stopped a mapping option.
Finally, while it is clear that a Guided Pathways model meets schools’ retention and graduation goals, analysis of the research spurs the question that asks does the model meet the moral objective of helping a student grow as a learner and actualize critical thinking skills, or, is it the easiest choice to funnel students through the system in the quickest way possible at the risk of losing the opportunity to optimize development of key learning skills that would benefit the student in the long run. As new data is emerging, hopefully administrators will address concerns in ways that optimize student learning and benefit the growing community college community.
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Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman is a doctoral student at Morgan State University in the Higher Education/Community College Leadership Development Program. She is founder of So Our Youth Aspire (SOYA), Liberated Muse Arts Group and the College Media Arts and Communication Association. She can be reached at email@example.com