What is the Pathways Model?

The Pathways Model is an integrated, institution-wide approach to student success based on
intentionally designed, clear, coherent and structured educational experiences, informed by
available evidence, that guide each student effectively and efficiently from her/his point of entry
through to attainment of high-quality post-secondary credentials and careers with value in the
labor market.

**Community College Resource Center, Columbia University

Woman in cafeteria image

By Jennifer Ferrero, APR

It’s an age-old problem – young students exiting high school are unsure of what to study in college, and older students coming back to school, are usually on a tight timeline, and financial budget.

Figuring out what to study sometimes causes an “a la carte” or “cafeteria” approach of taking a variety of classes to see what sticks. “Currently, the path through general education at most community colleges resembles the menu at the Cheesecake Factory—hundreds of options and never enough time to even read through them before we are asked to order,” Guided Pathways Demystified.*

What this means is that when students enroll in their local community college, they are presented with a variety of potential classes to take, often with the sentiment of “take what interests you.”

This can be problematic for a couple of reasons. The first is that taking a variety of classes may not lead to a specific degree.

Second, often when a student hits a road bump in a class they don’t like, they will drop-out of school.

The National Center for Education Statistics notes that, “The 6-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year degree-granting institution in fall 2008 was 60 percent.”

Of course, that means that nationally, about 40 % of those that start college (2-year or 4-year), will not finish. In some areas, that rate can be higher. This number is reflective of all college programs, yet, Washington’s State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), recognizes that there is a problem with what they call “Cafeteria College,” and in 2016 adopted the Guided Pathways approach to address it.

The Guided Pathways model:

  • Clarify the Paths: Clear roadmaps to student goals
  • Get Students on the Path: Intake redesigned as an on-ramp
  • Keep Students on the Path: Students’ progress closely tracked
  • Ensure Students are Learning: Learning outcomes/assessments aligned across program

Lisa Garcia-Hanson, with Washington’s State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), said that there are five colleges, within a grant, that have started to pilot this program. She noted that many of the 34 community and technical colleges, in the state, are reviewing and/or implementing this model on their own. There are other states in the nation that have implemented Guided Pathways; but Garcia-Hanson said that Washington is on its way.

Since true implementation of pathways, according to Garcia-Hanson, will require a college to change their model of service from, “We are here, learn our systems, and figure out what you are taking,” to one of service to students that asks, “How can we help students to succeed through clear pathways to jobs, and higher completion rates?” Garcia-Hanson said it could be four-to-eight years until measurements are available regarding not only increased graduation numbers, but also job/career outcomes. She noted that measuring salary, plus job satisfaction will be key, in addition to asking, “Are we supporting local workforce development efforts?”