AACC.NCHE.EDU APRIL/MAY 2016 | 29
of Community Colleges and funded by the Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation. Project partners are
Achieving the Dream, Inc., the Aspen Institute, the
Center for Community College Student Engagement, the
Community College Research Center, Jobs for the Future,
the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, and
Using the framework of guided pathways, the
colleges will spend a year revamping everything from
student intake to faculty and staff onboarding to marketing, curriculum development and advising to help
students find their way, stay on that path and catch
them before they fall off.
The project will be something new in the community college world: a real-world, real-time proof of a concept that academics like Davis Jenkins, a senior research
associate at the Community College Research Center at
Columbia University’s Teachers College, has been studying for years. Colleges have implemented pieces of this
through programs like Achieving the Dream. But it’s
never been implemented on a large scale and integrated
into the core how colleges function.
“Leading change is not something that most college
presidents learn about in school, even in community
college doctoral programs,” says Kay McClenney, senior
advisor to the president and CEO of AACC. McClenney
runs the Pathways Project and will guide the 30 colleges.
FROM CONCEPT TO REALITY
But making fundamental change at America’s community colleges after a focus on access for half a century is
like turning a supertanker, says Rob Johnstone, a former
college dean and founder of the National Center for
Inquiry and Improvement.
It’s something that he and Jenkins bring to colleges
in a kind of good-cop-bad-cop schtick.
When the pair visit colleges, first, Jenkins walks on
stage—the East Coast academic in a somber suit with
somber news: College’s best efforts to move the needle
haven’t resulted in fundamental change. Boutique
programs along the margins dry up when grants do,
and they don’t result in sustained change. Students are
getting stuck in developmental education. When they
do graduate, sometimes they find that industry doesn’t
need their skills. Meanwhile, they are using up Pell
Grant eligibility by wandering around the curriculum
and then wandering out the door.
Just when leaders are feeling grave, Johnstone
bounds on stage in his Hawaiian shirt, his sunny,
California demeanor, and cracks a few jokes. He’s got
good news. There is a way forward, and pathways are it.
“There is a brighter future coming for us, for stu-
dents and for the community,” says Johnstone. “You
combine pathways and financial stability for students,
and this is not rhetoric—it works.”
GUIDES TO SUCCESS
The big idea of guided pathways is to shift away from
allowing students to piece together their own path,
replacing the cafeteria college with structure and guidance that get students through developmental courses
and on to their desired result, whether that be workforce
training, an AA degree or transfer with junior standing
in a major.
It starts with meta-majors—that is, assigning
students to one broad field of study upon entry to the
college. Usually they break down to four: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), allied health,
business or humanities. Meta-majors organize course-work to expose students to all the potential pathways
within a discipline and then help them zero in on the
field that interests them.
There’s so much work you have to do, to have the conversations in the college
that create a shared sense of the problem and the solution.
ANDY DORSEY, president, Front Range Community College
Front Range Community College’s associate of science degree in
horticulture business management transfers to Colorado State University.