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prefer. Ideally, this approach will deter students from taking
too many general-interest course credits that may not move
them closer to a finished degree.
WWCC, which offers certificates and two-year degrees in
the oil, gas and mining industries along with other disciplines, had students in its old academic model graduating
with a cumbersome 80 credit hours through programs that
only required 64 credit hours to complete.
"Other people weren't graduating at all because we didn't
have courses structured for them in a logical order," Leach says.
"Or we didn't have those credits offered when students needed
them. We had to be more strategic."
Pathways gives WWCC's 3,500 students a program map
they can navigate online or with the aid of an adviser. The
college then assists its young charges in identifying a large
program group called a meta-major, with the aim of getting
students into more focused academic areas somewhere
down the line.
"If a student gets into a preferred program of study earlier
in their career, they're less likely to get lost," Leach says. "We're
helping them find efficiency in their path."
Coming from a "cafeteria" model of education that maximized
choice via a dizzying array of courses and credential options,
WWCC was challenged to integrate a new, institution-wide
approach that not only simplified student decision-making,
but engaged faculty in the transition as well.
LEND THEM YOUR EARS
To begin, Leach and her administrative team put together a
committee that placed faculty in leadership roles. Five or six
faculty members were assigned specific instructional areas,
acting as Pathways cheerleaders for staff still on the fence.
Some faculty were concerned the initiative would limit student
choice, while others voiced their worries about low student
turnout for specialized programs created through Pathways.
WWCC leadership presented five years of enrollment data to
a broad cross section of faculty, allowing them to select courses
best suited to their various instructional areas. Staff members
worried about choice, meanwhile, saw how course catalogs
containing hundreds of classes and dozens of programs could
overwhelm students. Many learners have difficulty determining the classes they need to complete a degree or to transfer to
a four-year college, a problem that Pathways aims to eliminate.
"We did the best we could to defuse any worries," Leach says.
"We got good momentum and people came to understand the
value of the program. Just getting champions in each area who
had the ear of their colleagues was helpful."
As a smaller institution—W WCC employs 81 faculty
members—administrators understood the need for staff
ownership in this vital endeavor.
"Change like this may be harder for a smaller school, because
the work is more personal and intimate," Leach says. "I needed
as many people as I could to become interested."
Rocky Barney, associate professor of WWCC's chemistry
department and the college's math/science division chair, says
bringing in faculty on the ground floor was key in establishing
dialogue and eventual buy-in with the Pathways process.
As supervisor for the math and science faculty teams,
Barney facilitates program maps. Such hands-on involvement
has allowed him and his colleagues to better appreciate the
initiative's potential outcomes.
"I'm able to coordinate with faculty regarding how students
benefit from a clearer path," Barney says. "The data we were
given showed other institutions having success with Pathways.
Seeing the data was critical for me in getting behind the project
and convincing other faculty."
"THERE'S BEEN ANXIETY OVER THE SPEED AT WHICH WE'RE MOVING, AND SOME
FACULTY DON'T WANT TO LOSE THE ABILITY TO TEACH A BREADTH OF COURSES."
THOMAS KEEGAN, president, Skagit Valley College
Skagit Valley College President Thomas Keegan says implementing Pathways helps
meet students where they are.