But We Already Do That! What’s New About Guided Pathways?

ASCCC Guided Pathways Task Force

The first comment after hearing about guided pathways nearly always seems to be this one: “But we already do that!” That is true, and that is not true.

It is true that many of the component aspects of guided pathways are in place because we built them over the past decade and integrated them into our larger college plans and operations: the Basic Skills Initiative (BSI), Course-Identification Numbering System (C-ID), Associate Degree for Transfer (ADTs), Student Educational Plans (SEP) , Equity plans, Student Success and Support Program(SSSP), pathways into the Historic Black Colleges and Universities, California State Universities, and University of California, et cetera- even unto exhaustion. We have programs that support each of the major principles of designing and implementing a guided pathway framework (IEPI.cccco.edu) to:

  • Create clear curricular pathways to employment and further education
  • Help students choose and enter an educational pathway
  • Help students stay on their educational paths
  • Ensure that learning is happening with intentional outcomes.

And what wasn’t built by state-mandated or college initiatives has often been implemented through the hard work and dedication of professionals on individual campuses or within individual departments – and sometimes by single practitioners who have had an idea and brought it to fruition.

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, we’re proud of our work- and rightly so.  We look through our campus support services and programs and we see a fully-formed highway to success.

But if “We already do that,” and all our supports and programs are in place, then why do we cringe when we look at our Scorecards, which record actual student successes, which are not nearly as pervasive as we’d like, and which often show that student failure is more likely than success? Why do we especially cringe when we recognize that our most vulnerable students are the most likely to fail? We pride ourselves on being a system dedicated to equity, yet achieving equity continues to remain beyond a distant horizon.

“If only,” we say, “students would avail themselves of our services.” “If only they’d study more.” “If only they’d come to our office hours.” Yes, student self-advocacy is part of the problem.  Faculty know from experience that students, especially first generation and traditionally underserved students, are often reticent to ask for help or don’t know how to study.  They are often intimidated or confused or stressed to a point where it is easier to walk away than to walk in.

Are there ways to teach self-advocacy and study skills and confidence? If your answer to that is yes, then those efforts might well be part of a college’s guided pathways framework.

All students struggle through their educational endeavors: The confusing application process is often a major barrier to getting started. Choosing a major while still in high school seems impossible. Placement and class scheduling seem like they might be easier with a Ouija board than with a catalogue.  Work conflicts with school. Stress and depression often undermine the best of intentions.  What is a student to do when a new career suddenly becomes a dream – and all the Student Educational Plans in the world can’t seem to create a clear track forward without repeating similar classes?

And each single student has a personal story, personal barriers and challenges, as well as personal ambitions and dreams. Often, those various barriers and challenges lead to stop outs and fail outs --- and every one of those lost students has lost part of their current and/or future aspirations.

Are there ways to clarify these paths, remove or reduce barriers, provide way-finding tools, and stay in touch so bumps in the road don’t become brick walls? If your answer to that is yes, then those efforts might well be part of a college’s guided pathways framework.

One way to look at our programs is the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle. When we look at our colleges, we see well designed supports and programs that seem to fit together, each piece offering students the support they need or the program they want or the safety net that will rebound them back on track.

But to students, that jigsaw puzzle often looks like it was just dumped out of the box, and there aren’t any straight-edged frame pieces evident and no reference photo of the completed puzzle. They simply don’t have the resources to put it all together.

Putting it all together is our job. Finding gaps and creating new pieces is our job. Teaching students to find their way is also our job. But negotiating the clearer path with the tools we provide is our students’ job – we need not become a helicopter in loco parentis.

As faculty, we want our students to succeed. That’s why we do these difficult jobs after all. So, when we look at the puzzle from the point of view of a student and recognize that there is ongoing work to be done and that we can do it, we are not only working towards our students dreams, but our own.

Each of the 114 colleges has committed to creating some version of a guided pathways framework, but no one has a template. There are no rainmakers or software programs or magic genies that will “pathway” your college. Your mission, vision, values, and culture are where your pathway begins, and your strategic planning structure is where it will be built. Since this is a faculty-driven project, this is our chance to point our individual colleges toward excellence.

True, we are already doing this. Now view it all through the eyes of students…and mind the gaps.