(Note: The following article is not an official statement of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The article is intended to engender discussion and consideration by local colleges, and each college is encouraged to conduct its own structures for guided pathways according to local needs and culture.)
Research on decision-making systems during guided pathways implementation is limited, especially regarding how early community college adopters of guided pathways in California are institutionalizing the framework using their strategic planning and governance systems. In an effort to address this dearth of research, a case study was conducted regarding guided pathways work at three California community colleges. The case study used qualitative data collected from interviews and institutional documents to draw conclusions and provide recommendations for practitioners implementing guided pathways.
Conclusions of the case study were as follows:
§ Inclusive and credible strategic planning and governance systems create a stable foundation for institutional redesign.
§ A networked system that connects informal groups on campus with formal committees promotes and accelerates efficiency during guided pathways implementation.
§ A proactive, reflective, student-centered approach to managing internal and external demands helps colleges maintain focus during pathways implementation.
§ Interdependent leadership mechanisms that are culturally compatible and responsive to institutional needs facilitate efficiency and involvement in guided pathways.
A Holistic Approach to Student Success
Community colleges are esteemed as bastions of opportunity, especially for disadvantaged students; yet, low completion rates have resulted in public scrutiny and calls for external accountability. This movement toward accountability in California community colleges has culminated in policy that connects funding to the achievement of concrete system-wide goals aimed at increasing educational attainment.
With higher expectations for institutional performance, colleges are increasing their alignment with the external environment and using new approaches to address the stagnation in student completion. Following an initial wave of student success initiatives that focused on small, segment-specific innovations that had limited impact, community colleges have entered a second phase of reform that emphasizes long-range, collective action aimed at large-scale, systemic change. Colleges are implementing guided pathways as a model for decision making that focuses on student success. However, guided pathways are only a framework for institutional redesign that provides limited guidance on how to address political and social dynamics during the change process.
The theory of strategic governance proposed by Schuster, Smith, Corak, and Yamada was used to frame the case study. Strategic governance is a construct that combines the domains of strategic planning and governance. Hierarchical and future oriented, the strategic planning domain falls primarily within the realm of administration and is externally influenced and responsive. The governance domain is faculty driven and concerned with addressing internal operational issues through participatory processes. Institutions must harmonize these two contradictory domains to ensure effective decision making.
Four main forces or strategic imperatives exert pressure on the strategic planning and governance domains: involvement, efficiency, environment, and leadership. Colleges balance these forces across the domains of strategic planning and governance when implementing guided pathways[DM1] .
Inclusive and credible strategic planning and governance systems create a stable foundation for institutional redesign. Strategic decision-making processes serve as the backbone for guided pathways implementation. Therefore, implementation depends on the integrity and efficacy of those processes. Integrity helps build trust and establish legitimacy during change efforts. Strategic planning and governance systems that are intentionally structured to ensure communication, promote collegiality, and sustain trust facilitate the broad engagement and commitment necessary to move pathways work forward.
The case study led to the development of the following practical recommendations for action regarding involvement:
§ Coordinate and lead appreciative inquiry (AI) activities to strengthen engagement and the perceived integrity of strategic planning and governance systems. A variety of resources and tools are available to support the application of AI. College leaders unfamiliar with AI may benefit from professional development and training prior to conducting activities.
§ Request the support of an IEPI Partnership Resource Team (PRT) for more in-depth assistance with improving decision-making systems. Using a peer coaching model, the IEPI PRTs help colleges to address self-identified issues and provide grants to support the implementation of improvement plans.
A networked system that connects informal groups on campus with formal committees promotes and accelerates efficiency during guided pathways implementation. College structures and practices should be intentionally aligned. This alignment ensures that informal mechanisms that foster agility, innovation, and motivation are connected to formal structures with decision making authority. This arrangement allows for a blended structure comprised of a traditional hierarchy for managing operations and cross-functional teams for addressing complex strategic issues.
The case study led to the development of the following practical recommendations for action regarding efficiency:
§ Develop, explicitly support, and define the parameters of informal groups and establish logical connections to formal structures.
§ Use charts, maps, and diagrams to identify informal groups, such as cross-functional teams created specifically for pathways implementation or departmental teams working on pathways-related activities, and show their relationship to formal structures.
§ Incorporate visual representations of this networked structure into strategic planning documents.
Monitoring the Environment
A proactive, reflective, student-centered approach to managing internal and external demands helps colleges maintain focus during pathways implementation. Colleges that cultivate self-awareness and motivate external engagement through a shared commitment to student success are able to minimize disruptions. These colleges continuously monitor internal and external environments by conducting self-assessments, participating in professional development opportunities, joining outside organizations, and forming partnerships. A proactive, assessment-minded approach that views pressures as opportunities for institutional advancement supports guided pathways efforts.
The case study led to the development of the following practical recommendations for action regarding the college environment:
§ Administer climate surveys and environmental scans at regular intervals to monitor the internal and external environment for changes and trends that may impact pathways plans. Formal discussions of environmental data should guide adjustments to pathways activities.
§ Determine how pathways progress will be measured and communicated to the appropriate groups in order to inform activities and plans. Once collected, data should be viewed holistically and disaggregated by pillar or pathway to inform implementation.
§ Centrally store and manage action plans and progress updates aligned to pillars and pathways in order to promote communication, collaboration, and accountability. Consider using technology solutions that integrate with existing institutional systems.
Interdependent leadership mechanisms that are culturally compatible and responsive to institutional needs facilitate efficiency and involvement in guided pathways. Leadership at multiple levels inspires engagement and legitimizes the implementation process. Using a combination of positional authority and influence, formal and informal leaders may exchange roles as needed to accomplish pathways goals. A distributed leadership model cultivates leaders and shares power. The decentralization of leadership requires structure and clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and charges to ensure communication and accountability.
The case study led to the development of the following practical recommendations for action regarding leadership:
§ Encourage coordination between the various forms of leadership and promote interdependence by delineating roles and responsibilities based on strengths and expertise.
§ Support professional development opportunities for individuals and teams to develop transformational leadership skills.
§ Organize intensive and immersive retreats that promote collaborative leadership and planning in support of pathways implementation.
Guided pathways provide colleges with a holistic model for developing overall institutional effectiveness in support of student success. A systemic application of the framework promotes a staged evolution wherein colleges tune internal structures, policies, and practices with external demands for increased educational attainment.
Early adopters of guided pathways perceive the guided pathways framework as a philosophy and view implementation as a perpetual journey toward institutional improvement. Guided pathways implementation requires community colleges to embrace self-discovery in order to mature.
Leadership plays an essential role in pathways implementation and should be concerned not only with what decisions are made but also how they are made. Integrating processes to increase and sustain internal engagement while employing strategies to strengthen decision-making systems will help colleges align their actions with intention and facilitate collective movement in support of student success.
 Ashby, H. (2018). A case study of strategic governance in the implementation of guided pathways at scale at California community colleges (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved fromhttps://digitalcommons.brandman.edu/edd_dissertations/214
 Russell, A. (2011). A guide to major U.S. college completion initiatives. AASCU Policy Matters. Retrieved fromhttp://www.aascu.org/policy/publications/policymatters/2011/collegecompletion.pdf
 IEPI PRT information can be found athttp://iepi.cccco.edu/prt