In California and across the country, community colleges are working hard on reforms aimed at increasing college completion, particularly among students historically underrepresented in higher education. Yet many promising innovations have not moved the needle. One reason is that many of these reforms, while innovative, focus on only a small proportion of the student body, or improve only one part of the students’ college experience. As a result, colleges have begun to adopt a more comprehensive institutional reform known as "guided pathways."
Guided pathways are based on a set of scalable design principles, outlined in the 2015 book Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success. These principles include
Implementation may occur in a variety of ways, but colleges have found it essential to focus on the following areas:
Opportunities for California Community Colleges
The last six months have seen tremendous momentum and support for guided pathways in California. This support has emerged at all levels, including the governor, legislature, the Chancellor’s Office, national foundations, and college faculty and administrators. Last month, with the support of the College Futures Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Teagle Foundation, the Chancellor’s Office awarded grants to twenty colleges as part of The California Guided Pathways Project. Last year, three community colleges in California were awarded the American Association of Community Colleges Pathways grant to assist them with planning and implementing a pathways framework. In addition, the Governor’s Budget proposal for 2017‒18 includes $150 million one-time Proposition 98 funds to support new guided pathways programs in community colleges. Finally, Senate Bill 539, introduced during the 2017 legislative cycle, proposes to use an incentive grant to help establish guided pathways that would boost completion and transfer. Given this wide-ranging support, much can be learned from the experiences in other states and systems. It will also be critical for colleges to conduct deep examinations of how existing college initiatives, such as those involved with the Basic Skills Student Outcomes and Transformation program, can be integrated into guided pathways. In an upcoming blog post, we will explore how developmental education reform intersects with the guided pathways framework.
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