Developing Guided Pathways: The Importance of Faculty Voice and Leadership


Frequently, a creative or fashionable idea attracts attention at colleges across the state. Seemingly independent from one another, colleagues at different colleges and districts engage in conversations about a particular concept – newly conceived or perhaps reimagined from the past – that holds promise for helping colleges to better serve and support students. The latest such concept to garner attention and discussion is guided pathways.

The term “pathways” can have many different connotations. Some colleagues will immediately reference well known pathway models such as CTE career pathways, where courses are sequenced and the program is structured in such a way as to provide students with the optimal experience in achieving a certificate or degree.  Another pathway that often comes to mind is the Associate Degree for Transfer that, once awarded, guarantees admittance to the CSU system and 60 units toward a baccalaureate. Others may evoke more recent efforts to integrate high school students into community colleges through options such as dual enrollment or middle college programs that enable high school students to begin college early, thereby showing them the pathway to a college award.

In the past year, another way of thinking about pathways has emerged and has received an extraordinary amount of attention in California. As a precursor, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) launched its national Pathways Project—referred to as the Guided Pathways Project—with colleges in 17 states signing on to participate. The Guided Pathways Project is “focused on building capacity for community colleges to design and implement structured academic and career pathways, at scale, for all of their students.”[1] Three California community colleges joined the effort: Bakersfield College, Mt. San Antonio College, and Irvine Valley College. Other California community colleges interested in guided pathways but not willing or ready to fully commit to the structured AACC model started their own local efforts. These local efforts, at various stages of development, frequently adhere to or are based on the AACC Guided Pathways principles. Additionally, the California Guided Pathways project was launched in December 2016. This new effort is designed to adapt the AACC Guided Pathways model to California community colleges. Initially, the project will include 15 to 20 colleges selected through a competitive application process.

Pathways have not just captured the attention of many of our colleagues; in January, the governor included $150 million in his budget for guided pathways. The governor’s budget summary states, “The Budget proposes additional investment in student success. Specifically, the Budget includes $150 million one‑time Proposition 98 General Fund for grants to support community colleges’ efforts to develop and implement ‘guided pathways’ programs.”[2] Of course, the budget is not yet finalized and is subject to revision, but by including funding for guided pathways, the governor recognized the significance of pathways to our students and colleges.

In considering the implementation of any pathways program, discussions are and should be collaborative, involving participation from all constituent groups on campus including students, staff, and administrators. However, certain characteristics that are inherent in all pathways establish the obligation for academic senates and faculty to be at the core of the effort. Any pathway designed for students to achieve their educational goals includes curriculum, student preparation, degree and certificate requirements, and program development. In other words, pathways land squarely within the 10+1. Regardless of whether the pathway program is adopted from an existing model or is developed locally, academic senates must take the lead in decisions that involve academic and professional matters. As always, the goal is to ensure that all pathways provide a quality educational experience that enhances opportunity and illustrates the value of learning for all students.

As colleges continue to investigate pathways models, faculty must be thoughtful and deliberative in choosing the design. California community colleges serve populations with a variety of educational needs and goals. Implementation of any pathway program must include discussions about ensuring a comprehensive education that not only prepares students for their jobs and careers but also provides the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in all aspects of life, including their roles as family and community members as well as national and global citizens. Furthermore, all pathways must provide students with wide exposure to diverse thoughts and perspectives and minimize unintended consequences such as constraining student opportunity to explore, develop, and grow in thought and action.

The Academic Senate encourages innovation in education, and to provide support for these pathway efforts, Resolution 9.12 F15 Support Local Development of Curricular Pathways urges local academic senates and curriculum committees to be genuinely involved in decisions regarding any curricular pathway program under consideration. Furthermore, as pathways programs are designed, developed, and implemented in our colleges, the Academic Senate will be investigating and disseminating effective practices as directed by Resolution 9.03 F16 Investigate Effective Practices for Pathways Programs.

Conceptualizing new and innovative educational pathways for students is exciting and invigorating. Pathway models hold tremendous promise, and the appeal of these models resides in the integrated and intentional approach, the holistic focus on the students’ experience from the students’ perspective, and in the flexibility to adapt to our 113 unique colleges. Of course, any pathways initiative at a college must be a collaborative effort that engages all constituent groups on campus, but academic senates and faculty must take the lead and at be at the center of all stages of planning and implementation. The Academic Senate for California Community College is committed to supporting faculty as they begin and continue this work for their colleges, their communities, and their students. 

[1] Information on AACC Pathways Project may be found at…

[2] A summary of the Governor’s proposed budget may be found at