Community Colleges Across US To Assist Students in Choosing DegreesBy Joy Liwanag
The track from community college to a fulfilling career often appears uncertain and opaque to students. To address this challenge, a set of transformative reforms known as guided pathways has gained popularity over the past decade.
Launched in 2015, the American Association of Community Colleges' Pathways Project has been instrumental in implementing these reforms. From 2016 to 2022, 30 community colleges participated in the project, committing to redesign their student experiences.
A recent report from the Community College Research Center highlights the onboarding process as a pivotal area of revision for colleges undergoing guided pathways reforms. Done correctly, onboarding helps students understand, select, and enter their programs of study. Community college leaders have shared their successful strategies in reshaping this crucial phase.
A key component of the guided pathways framework is the development of "meta-majors." These group individual programs into broader fields of study, such as health sciences, providing students with a clearer understanding of their options. Hana Lahr, director of applied learning at the CCRC, emphasizes that the true utility of meta-majors emerges when integrated into various onboarding processes.
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St. Petersburg College's Innovative Approach
St. Petersburg College in Florida has successfully incorporated meta-majors into its application process. Recognizing that listing all majors can overwhelm prospective students, the college implemented a two-step process. Students first select a meta-major, then choose from a shorter list of majors within that specific area. Additionally, advisers are assigned based on students' fields of study, allowing for specialized guidance.
Participating colleges also considered labor market trends, questioning whether each certificate or degree led to employment opportunities at family-sustaining wages. Laurel Williamson, deputy chancellor and college president at San Jacinto College in Texas, emphasizes the importance of aligning programs with local job markets to ensure students are on paths that lead to meaningful employment.
Tailoring Support to Individual Needs
Colleges implemented various methods to help students understand and select their programs. St. Petersburg's advisers assess the certainty students have about their chosen pathways, tailoring guidance based on individual needs. At San Jacinto College, advisers engage students directly in discussions about their career aspirations, providing valuable information about potential jobs and their associated pay scales.
St. Petersburg College stands out for its incorporation of the Holland Codes, a widely used career aptitude system, into its onboarding process. All students take a test to assess their interests in six personality areas, and advisers use the results to guide discussions about career choices. This personalized approach helps students align their career goals with their skill interests, ensuring a more fulfilling and successful educational journey.
Guided pathways are proving to be a transformative force in community colleges, bringing much-needed clarity to the often ambiguous journey from education to career. By integrating meta-majors, aligning programs with labor market demands, and adopting personalized onboarding processes, these colleges are empowering students to make informed decisions and embark on pathways that lead to meaningful and sustainable careers. As community colleges continue to evolve, guided pathways offer a promising blueprint for enhancing student success and bridging the gap between education and the workforce.
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