Achieving Pathways Goals with Student-Centered Design

Achieving Pathways Goals with Student-Centered Design

A growing number of college students arrive on campus with a limited understanding of how to progress efficiently to completion. The traditional cafeteria model fails to address this problem by providing students with an overabundance of choices and very little direction on how to make informed decisions.

Community colleges have turned to Guided Pathways as a means of providing students with opportunities for structured exploration through clear routes to completion. However, institutions face a challenge to bridge the gap between pathways theory and successful implementation.

Use this study to unlock your institution’s capabilities within the Guided Pathways model and efficiently move toward student success goals.

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This resource is part of the Design Student-Centered Guided Pathways to Achieve Strategic Goals Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

Chapter 1: Designing Student-Centric Pathways


is the average number of excess credits accumulated at community college
is the average number of excess credits accumulated at community college

When introducing pathways academic reform, colleges need to strike a balance between exploration and structure within their curriculum. An excess of choice has proven ineffective for most community college students, but overly-prescriptive pathways risk pushing students to goals they don’t want. Colleges should balance student needs for structure and exploration within program maps and meta-majors.

Though faculty committees can prove efficient in mapping program sequences, conflicts over committee leadership can pose residual challenges. Faculty tend to advocate for the courses they teach, often without considering the broader aims of the program. They also have a limited understanding of the general education and prerequisite courses included in their program. On the other hand, deans are often unfamiliar with the content knowledge provided by all of the courses within their departments and struggle to optimize program efficiency while maintaining departmental morale.

Current ownership limitations to mapping process

  • Misalignment between individual incentives and best choice for program
  • Tension between personal experience and entrenched program norms
  • Lack of knowledge about prerequisite courses to include
  • Tension between optimizing program sequence and decline in division size
  • Fear of appearing biased by prioritizing certain classes or faculty over others
  • Hard to distill current state of programs within their division

Chapter 2: Aligning Course Capacity to Student Demand

Students cite registration obstacles and unpredictable schedules as barriers to success, but many colleges roll over prior course sequences and requirements year to year. While new pathways enable students to accelerate toward completion, misaligned course schedules still pose threats toward degree progress. Course scheduling must be crafted to match student demand as informed by data and pathways insights.

“Beyond the quantitative impact, we’re hearing from advisors that students are feeling more certain about their nonacademic schedules. The key variable is life uncertainty and a guaranteed schedule is a great way to reduce that for our students.”

J. Michael Thompson, East Campus President, Cuyahoga Community College


is the average number of majors changed during community college
is the average number of majors changed during community college

Chapter 3: Fostering Goal-Based Student Decision-Making

As colleges implement Guided Pathways, advisors face a reduced burden of determining course schedules—but the need to guide students into appropriate career programs increases. In order to scale advisors’ impact, colleges should rethink traditional formats of advising delivery and innovate on the role of the advisor.

Chapter 4: Flexing Pathways for Off-Pace Students

Despite their best efforts, many community college students encounter obstacles off-campus that can derail their path to completion. Without responsive on- and off-ramps, students who drop a course may never get back on track, and ultimately invalidates Guided Pathways redesign for community college students that need flexibility.

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