How Guided Pathways Will Redesign Community College

A new education reform adopted by Santa Ana College will direct students towards academic skills programs with a map in hand.

Guided Pathways develops program maps that lead students towards degrees, certificates, and future careers.

SAC is the only community college in Orange County implementing the pathways initiative. Faculty and administrators are drafting plans to ensure students make steps towards graduation and career goals.

By simplifying class and program choices, the new plan attempts to close achievement gaps.

“We are asking SAC to be very clear and honest about its data, determine which students are not succeeding at the same rates as others, and to ask direct questions about why that’s happening,” said California Community College Chancellor Eloy Oakley.

Over half of all SAC students come from Hispanic or Asian backgrounds, and about three-quarters of all students enroll part-time, according to Data USA.

In 2017 nearly half of all students planning to transfer to a four-year college, only completed nine units or less, according to the 2018 SAC fact book. At this rate, half of all enrolled students will take at least six semesters to graduate or transfer.

The adoption of Guided Pathways is a critical element of accelerating progress by using program mapping to keep students on a plan that includes at least 12 units per term.

Faculty coordinator Dr. Fernando Ortiz, a committee of five faculty design teams, are redrafting major programs, reorganizing departments, and presenting them in a student-friendly layout that helps make class choices more clear.

Courtesy California Community College Chancellor’s Office

Students can choose from seven program categories described by career objectives, rather than majors. Ortiz refers to them as “Career and Academic Pathways.” Described in each group are programs of study suggested for various careers by industry professionals and faculty.

“The idea of creating a grouping of programs is to help students make informed decisions about their preferred major,” Ortiz said.

In response to the new reform, every academic department is responsible for drafting program maps. They are designed to include critical courses, complementary elective suggestions, and meet a two-year time frame for degree completion.

With the current system, students often rely on themselves as academic advisors. “You go to your counselor, and yeah they’re guiding you, but sometimes it doesn’t sink in. They’ll give you the information, but you need to go out of your way to research it too”, Jennifer Jimenez, a second-year Speech-Language Pathology Assistant student, said.

As a result, about one in five students say that SAC is not supportive of their personal development according to the 2018 SAC fact sheet, and only 47 percent of transfer students persisted from their first term to their second term last year, compared to the state average at about 68 percent.

“We know that our students, and community college students throughout California, are not succeeding at rates that are acceptable,” Ortiz said.

By using Guided Pathways SAC officials aim to keep students in school and help them graduate and transfer, by requiring appointments with counselors, tracking milestones, and meeting required deadlines.

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