Hundreds of community colleges nationwide are uniting around a reform movement called Guided Pathways (GPS). In use from Florida to Hawaii, GPS aims to ensure that community college students follow a clear path to graduation with help from supportive, career-focused counseling. GPS is designed to help students finish faster, better understand graduation requirements, and save money.
Guided Pathways has been adopted by colleges like St. Petersburg College in Florida, Honolulu Community College, San Jacinto College near Houston, and the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD). At least 250 community colleges are participating.
The goal is simple: helping students graduate as quickly and painlessly as possible.
The problem: unclear expectations
GPS was inspired by numerous studies revealing the hurdles community college students face on their path to graduation. One such problem: Students often take far more classes than they need.
According to College Complete America, the average Texas community college graduate needs 60 credit hours of courses to receive an associate degree. But, to receive that degree, that average student takes 90 credit hours of classes. The University of North Texas reports that 20 percent of students who transfer from community colleges arrive at UNT having taken two entire years of unnecessary classes.
Why does this happen? One frequent cause is that students might not know what they want to study when they enter school – which is fine. Community colleges are a good place to explore different career options, since tuition is lower.
But other causes are more concerning. A survey of DCCCD students found that many students did not understand their graduation requirements, or received confusing advice from their academic advisors. In addition, many graduating students report that they took “required” classes, only to find out later that the classes were not really required.
The solution: Guided Pathways
As colleges adopt GPS, students notice two major changes. First, they’ll enjoy expanded advising and career coaching departments. North Lake College and the DCCCD are growing their advising staffs by 25 percent, including new “navigators” specially trained to guide students through the college environment.
Career coaching will also become a major part of the academic advising process, and each college will add a new career coach to the existing staff. All advisors will go through additional training to provide more knowledgeable academic and career-focused assistance.
The second big change for students will be a GPS “road map,” a printable checklist outlining how to reach graduation in clear and easy-to-follow language. The road maps are broken down into seven categories with names like Business, Health Sciences, or Industry, Manufacturing and Construction.
Each road map provides accurate information on academic and career guidance, including exactly what students need to graduate. The plans will be consistent across all Dallas County Community Colleges, to help students attending classes at multiple schools.
Choosing a road map is not the same as choosing a major – each pathway includes numerous majors, and students are always free to change their minds.
National success stories
Although GPS is relatively new, many colleges and universities are already seeing success. Georgia State University reported a 20 percent increase in graduation rates after implementing degree maps similar to GPS, and the gains at Queensborough Community College in New York City were even higher.
After implementing GPS-style road maps for its students, Florida State University reported that its four-year graduation rate increased from 44 to 61 percent and the problem of students taking too many classes before graduating virtually disappeared.
A brand-new student experience
At North Lake College and other colleges in the DCCCD, GPS has begun for dozens of programs already, with the remainder coming by 2020. At that time, new students will meet with career coaches as part of the enrollment process, then focus their studies on one of the eight road maps.
North Lake College is proud to join the national GPS reform movement. Many students are already making smarter class choices with road maps in hand, the first step in a program that is improving advising, career coaching, and graduation rates across the country.