California community colleges are committing to a guided pathways framework, and transformation is taking place college-wide at each campus. Across each of the major principles or pillars of guided pathways, counselors could likely attest that the strategies indicated are what they have been doing for decades in terms of helping students choose, enter, and stay on educational paths to achieve their intended outcomes. Those functions of a counseling department now must play an even clearer and expanded role in the larger guided pathways framework, a framework that better integrates instruction and student services. As California community colleges will be transforming under guided pathways, the counseling discipline itself will as well need to transform.
As one out of the 20 colleges selected under the California Guided Pathways Project, the counseling department at Cuyamaca College felt that it quickly needed more insight from counseling colleagues in the state before Cuyamaca’s counselors could have a clear grasp as to what their own model of “counseling in guided pathways” could look like. Concepts and best practices were available, but the 114 California community colleges offer great variety in terms of college size, full-time counseling faculty, and staffing, let alone at what stage each college may be in the process of this implementation.
An informal survey was sent out May 2018, initially to counselors at the 20 California Guided Pathways Project participating colleges and then further shared on the Guided Pathways Listserv, to seek responses from counselors at large. The survey obtained 35 responses that provided initial insights into a number of aspects that counseling departments have had to consider for this transformation:
- Where are counselors being located on campus?
- How are counselor assignments and duties being assigned?
- How do adjunct counselors fit in?
- How is counseling coverage managed in a caseload or pathway structure?
- How does GP affect other areas of student services, such as categorical programs?
- How are counseling “peak-times” managed?
- Are paraprofessionals being used, and if so, how?
The survey further sought to identify what counselors felt were the challenges faced in implementing guided pathways from a student services standpoint, and, for those counselors at colleges that were further along in the process, what things, in retrospect, they would have done differently during this process.
One of the major transformations that may be taking place in counseling departments now is that as these clear pathways are being formed for the students, counselors across the state may find themselves having to function within those pathways in more specialized areas, or meta-majors, versus performing in a generalist capacity.
As community college counseling departments continue to partake in this transformation, common challenges are being addressed:
- Staffing and space
- Specialized vs. General Counseling
- Physical space and location
- Understanding guided pathways and what it means to the counseling discipline
- What does it look like for counselors?
- Transformation is change and change takes time
- Essential career guidance
- What have counselors already been doing?
- Faculty buy-in
- Time and Planning
- Equitable quality of service for all
- Having a voice for feedback and brainstorming
- Planning for more specialized counseling
- Bridging a gap between instruction and student services
From those counselors at colleges that were further along in the process, the following were areas recommended for institutions in earlier stages to focus on:
- Counselor involvement
- Needed at all points in the process
- Time and planning
- Realistic timelines
- Organized Guided Pathways Design Teams
- Structured approach
- Student input
- Research, consultations, and discussions
- What are other community colleges doing?
As varied as community colleges are in size and demographics, they are just as varied in their approach and progress towards the guided pathways framework. Counseling and student services is simply one piece of a larger puzzle, and the need to consult and collaborate among counseling departments statewide is vital to preserving the discipline during this transformation. Continued surveying of counseling departments through the process will yield much needed insight for all. Further detailed data reporting would provide a better comparison of what departments and colleges are doing based on their student populations, sizes, and staffing availability. Over the next five years, the future will reveal what the majority of counseling departments look like, how far into specialized, meta-major counseling departments will go, and whether guided pathways was really the answer we were all looking for.