FRCC is One of Few Community Colleges to Initiate Guided Pathways

One of our most fundamental, mammalian systems is the collection and dissemination of information from old generations to new. Without education, I would not know how to cook, speak, write or be a human.

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As with all things, time takes an inevitable toll, and as we move forward, it becomes more evident that our current American education system is deeply flawed, and we feel the consequences. The dismembering, distancing and universal approach to American education has collectively weakened our position globally.

One could spend years academically critiquing the current education system without making any real progress to change it. While most academics maintain the status quo, a lucky few are breaking the mold of a new form of higher education. One might ask, “Is this even possible? Who can take on such a large task?” Thankfully there is a group of dedicated educators and institutions that is trying a new program that will hopefully empower students to be successful at finding a career, not just getting a degree.

Cathy Pellish, the Dean of Instruction, as well as a math faculty member, at Front Range Community College, has 16 years of education work under her belt. Additionally, Pellish is part of a college-wide initiative called Guided Pathways.

“I’m really proud to be a part of this college. It has really supported teachers and faculty innovating things in the classroom, trying out different styles of teaching, experimenting with online work, hybrid classes, academic coaches, supplemental instruction, all sorts of things. However, we struggle with bringing these experimental forms of teaching up to scale for the largest community college in Colorado,” Pellish said.

That said, Pellish acknowledged that there are gaps in community college education. “The number of students actually who complete their degrees is small. On a national level only 5 percent of students who start their 2-year associates actually finish it on time. Only 36 percent finish a 4-year bachelors at a flagship university. Students are coming here not to dabble, but to finish and to move on and to have a career. When we see these numbers on a national level we know we need to change things,” said Pellish.

Front Range Community College President, Andrew Dorsey, saw these statistics and initiated change. He charged Pellish and a task force with finding a way to implement a college-wide initiative that could raise completion rates. They decided on a unique and straight-forward solution titled “Guided Pathways,” which consists of five main ideas.

These five main ideas all focus on empowering students with concise knowledge before they make decisions about what paths to take in college. The five ideas are guided academic maps, on-time registration, on-boarding, a student success course, and PASS (Pro-active Student Support).

Pellish explained how these five initiatives work. When a student starts pursuing college, he is often given a very rudimentary understanding of how to get to where he wants to be. This leads to confusion and a lack of an understandable career path. Everything from registering, to dropping a course, to applying for graduation is self-taught, and if one lacks the mental abilities to work through these, or is easily frustrated, it results in incompletion and disengagement.

Of the five planned initiatives, the most significant was the guided academic maps.  A guided academic map is a simple document that outlines every requirement a student needs: every course, how long it will take to complete and what you can do with your degree. The tools one needs to make an informed decision are all in one place, instead of being intentionally scattered to weed out the weak.

“Our system is broken, and I don’t mean that in a harsh way. There’s so much good stuff happening here, but we haven’t connected the dots for our students, we haven’t communicated the connections for our students,” Pellish said. “It’s great if you end up in an advisor’s office and you can get what you need, but for the majority of our students, they may never see an advisor, they may not even know that advisors exist. We wanted to give them something more concrete with the maps, so they have some of the power of choice and can see the end of those choices.”

Guided Pathways is a much more accessible, empowering, and understandable way of approaching higher education. It incentivizes and motivates students because they have the power. College becomes a distinct path forward, not a cluster of unrelated experiences that one must capitalize on.

Under the Guided Pathways system, students would be required to take a course outlining how to be successful in college. The best students would priority register and register on-time to receive educational incentives. Students could receive pro-active support from faculty and staff.

Most importantly, with a map in place, students could physically see what courses they need, how long it will take to complete a course of study and what jobs are waiting for them when they finish. This is distinct departure from the current passive system, where students are expected to fend for themselves.

In a world so filled with chaos abroad and at home, finding your own sanity is the only way to survive.  Look at the Guided Pathways Initiative as a way of regaining our collective sanity. If we can learn to give our students the tools they really need for their success rather than the success of the institution our nation’s education system can begin to heal again.

“We are moving. Educational change doesn’t often happen quickly, but we are already seeing tangible results.” Pellish concluded.

Written by Christopher Kemp

Photo by Kayla Klein

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