Guided Pathways helps students find their direction

students working in laboratory

The Guided Pathways Initiative by the nonprofit organization College Spark has awarded grants to several community colleges in Washington to help them better support students in choosing courses more wisely. Bellevue College was not among the colleges which received a grant.

College Spark Executive Director Christine A. McCabe said that “we have more students than ever who are graduating from high school and going to college,” which is why it is important for colleges to be ready for them. “Many of these students are the first in their family to go to college and they are inexperienced with navigating it,” she added. According to McCabe, most students come in with goals but don’t really know how to get there, which is why they need advice from the colleges along their way. Over the last 12 years, College Spark has been trying “to help students and community college to make some changes, but those aren’t reaching enough students,” explained McCabe. “Guided pathways is designed to reach all students on a campus and to provide them with advice throughout their college time.”

In order to make guided pathways a success, the faculty of awarded colleges will work together to identify major pathways. “If the college has lots of students interested in healthcare, that would be a pathway,” McCabe stated as an example. The college’s job is then to design a clear pathway telling students which classes they need to start with and in which directions they can go. Moreover, if students want to change their pathway, they can get advice on what they need to switch to another pathway. “What this actually does for the students is making their choices more effective so that they don’t take classes that don’t end up getting them to a degree,” McCabe emphasized. How exactly the pathways will be communicated to students will probably vary from college to college. McCabe considers the establishment of computer systems that overlook the classes students register for and alerts advisers if students are leaving their pathways to be a good strategy. This way, “advisers know which students need help,” she said.

When College Spark announced the giveaway of their first guided pathways grants, about half of the colleges in Washington State applied. “We wanted the first group to be very successful models and emphasized colleges that had already taken steps in this direction,” McCabe said. Many colleges are excited about the idea behind guided pathways, but haven’t yet started improving their ways of guiding students. McCabe didn’t recall exact details about the reasons to exclude Bellevue College, but most likely it didn’t fall into the group of colleges which had already done changes in their student advising at the large scale. However, colleges with less experience are expected to be awarded with grants in the next round in 2018.

The money which makes the grants possible comes from funding leftovers of College Spark’s past involvement with student loans, explained McCabe. To control whether their grants are being used effectively, colleges have to report on what they are spending their money every six months. Independent evaluators will then examine whether “students are doing better at their colleges, completing their degree programs and staying in college term after term,” described McCabe.

“Colleges are really interested in making big changes that affect all of their students and in recognizing that they have goals they want to get to,” McCabe said, “They are looking for a way to help that.”