Miami-Dade College Leads Community College Trend in Guided Pathways Model

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.

Reference List

Ashford, E. (2015, April 20). Redesigning for student pathways. Community College Daily.  Retrieved from

Bailey, T.R., Jaggars, S. & Jenkins, D.  (2015). Redesigning America’s Community

Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cohen, A., Brawer, F. & Kisker, C. (2014). The American Community College. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Guided Pathways: Improving completion and showing students the way to success, Vol. 6, issue At Issue. (2016) Retrieved form

Implementing Guided Pathways at Miami Dade College: A Case Study. (2015). Community College Research Center. Retrieved from Jameson-Meledy, K. (2016). Structured College Pathways. Citrus College Institute for Completion (IFC) Research Brief, No. 5. Retrieved from

Jenkins, D & Cho, S. (2014) Get with the program…and finish it: Building guided pathways to accelerate student completion. Retrieved from Miami Dade College History. (n.d.). Miami Dade Fact Book Web Links. Retrieved from

Miami Dade College Organizational Chart. (n.d.). [Graph Illustration] Miami Dade Fact Book Web Links. Retrieved from

Nevarez, C., & Wood, Luke, J. (2010). Community College Leadership and Administration: Theory Practice and Change. Washington, DC: Peter Lang.

Shaughnessy, M.F. (2013, April 15). An interview with Joel Spring: Are we racing to the top or sinking? Education News. Retrieved from

What we know about Guided Pathways. (2016). Community College Research Center. Retrieved from packet.html


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

REVIEW: Community Colleges as Cultural Texts by Shaw, Valadez & Rhoads


Community Colleges as Cultural Texts (Shaw, Valadez & Rhoads, 1999) has already proven to be a valuable resource for my continued studies.  Offering different approaches to the concept of identity, social justice and culture, each chapter, authored by different scholars, critically analyzes the way identity and culture shapes the ways colleges relate to their student populations. The chapter titled, “The politics of culture and identity: contrasting images of multiculturalism and monoculturalism,” by UCLA professor Robert A. Rhoads, is the chapter  reviewed for this essay.

The major idea Rhoads’ chapter offered is that community college leaders need to understand that students thrive within an environment that not only acknowledges difference among their student population, but legitimizes the cultural difference among the student population by acknowledging the culture of the people as normative within their learning environment. This normalizing goes beyond mere inclusion and happens when students are given opportunities to share, express, and contribute to the learning environment as valuable resources who are expected to add their perspectives to the learning landscape. As Rhoads believes, “we need to recognize that teaching and learning is a contextualized process in which certain cultural forms become legitimized through their inclusion or delegitimized through their absence” (Rhoads, p. 121).

Rhoads (1999) explained his main idea in his research-based essay by illustrating with qualitative data from his study of Western Community College that who we are, or believe ourselves to be, shapes the way that we interact with others on a daily basis. If a college employee perceives the behaviors and choices of their students as being less than desirable, then, that college employee is automatically inclined to attribute those perceived behaviors as definitive of the culture from which that student comes.

Rhoads (1999) presented this as a power dynamic that works to the detriment of the student who does not have the authority to counter the bias of the college employee, and who may not even be aware that this perception is shaping the way in which this college employee is relaying information about opportunities, or even making choices when teaching information.  Rhoads (1999) stated that, “the assumptions we have of the other (and necessarily ourselves) are revealed through the educational interactions and endeavors we adopt in relation to our students” (p. 107).

I was trained in Advancing Youth Development (AYD) theory in 2005 while working in the nonprofit sector and became familiar with the term “adultism”, bias favoring adults over youth that rang familiar when reading this part of Rhoads’ chapter. Although all of our students may not be youth when becoming students, they are more likely to be treated as less capable than the college employee providing the service, with rare exceptions that are often due to the students’ visible alignment with what the college employee deems worthy to acknowledge. My training in AYD has impacted greatly the work that I do currently as a college administrator, equipping me with the training to acknowledge my students as participants in their learning experience. This means that their experiences that have shaped them to who they are now are useful in shaping their future and contributing to the learning environment during their matriculation. I create learning environments that encourage sharing, expression, and inquiry.

Another point that Rhoads (1999) addressed was the need for docility be present or a cultural shedding to take place for students of diverse cultural background to be perceived as a worthy student. Rhoads summarizes that an imbalance of power exists within the learning environment and all too often students of color are expected to disconnect from their culture in order to fit in to the Eurocentric paradigm in order to be considered for access to opportunity within the campus community. Despite the often diverse make-up of college campuses, the faculty and staff do not reflect such diversity. So, what happens is the student population that contains people who reflect diverse value models, cultural traditions, abilities, and experiences are crunched into the narrow lens of the faculty who may or may not have respect, interest or useful need for the values, traditions, abilities and experiences of their students. Therefore, the students may or may not lose out on opportunities that could widen their possibilities as students and as graduates, and the college employee remains trapped inside their limited belief about the student who is different from them because “culture not only establishes the parameters for social interaction, it also provides a framework for how we define ourselves in relation to others. Definitions of the self and the other contribute to how identities are represented and understood” (Rhoades, (1999), p. 106).

This last point of Rhoads’ resonated strongest because even within the HBCU I work and the community college I used to work at for three years, where both faculty and students are majority of African descent, cultural bias is rampant, requiring students to adopt a capitalist Euro-American persona to be successful as a student and in the world of work. At the HBCU, any of the college employees are graduates of the school and have continued a cycle that demands the disassociation of cultural markers to ensure success. In observing this, I have seen how the campus community misses benefiting from some of the cultural practices that could possibly impact for the better matriculation rates among all students if incorporated into programming and policy and could connect students to a richer classroom experience if the faculty were trained in ways to approach teaching from a culturally inclusive perspective.

I believe that Rhoads’ essay explores the ways that identity is used against the student as a learner as it positions them into a position of vulnerability. This positioning impacts any ability the student has to advocate for themselves and colors the way they view themselves as agents of change implementing actions of social justice.

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

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