Student success through guided pathways

Last Tuesday, a town hall meeting was held in room N201 to inform faculty about BC potentially applying for a grant from College Spark Washington. If received, the grant would go towards implementing guided pathways at Bellevue College. During the meeting, instructors were introduced to the concept of guided pathways – which provide students with structured plans for their academic goals — and encouraged to give feedback on how they felt it would impact the school.

Rebecca Cory gave a slideshow presentation on the basics of guided pathways and cited findings from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. The goal of guided pathways at Bellevue College would be increased student retention and degree completion. To do this, program maps would be created so that students would be able to select and schedule courses in a way that would align with their future goals, education and career.

With guided pathways, students would be able to track their progress more accurately and build skills relevant to the profession they want to pursue, while decreasing excess credits and the time to degree completion, Cory explained. She said that the overarching idea of guided pathways is flexible, and that “we decide what that looks like for Bellevue College.”

Cory listed typical student outcomes, which include low rates of graduation, excess credits, excessive time to degree completion and a lack of clarity about their college education. The idea behind guided pathways, Cory said, is to “make things work campus wide in a systemic way.”

Rebecca Cory explaining the proposal.
Rebecca Cory explaining the proposal.

Research conducted by the Community College Research Center found an issue with course catalogs that impaired student success. College class offerings were built to promote student enrollment rather than emphasize degree completion. “They don’t have a lot of direction,” Cory explained.

“Students aren’t sure what’s out there,” said Gita Bangera, BC’s dean of undergraduate research. Guided pathways could give students the structure and guidance that would make progress towards a choice career clearer and straightforward.

“They’re not successful, or not as successful as they could be,” said Cory of current students. Guided pathways would encourage students to think about career options to form decisions on what classes they need to take and the credit transferability of those courses. Rather than think of Bellevue College as a place to take classes or to complete a degree, students would be encouraged, Cory said, to answer the question “what is Bellevue College a pathway to?”

Guided pathways would provide a more individualized schedule for students to follow while they worked towards their degree at Bellevue. Cory said that this sort of program would give students “clear road maps to their goals.”

If guided pathways are approved, Cory hopes to make improvements to the default program maps, exploratory majors and a college success course such as First Year Experience, which is an orientation class for first-time college students.

Corey also showed a possible timeline for changes if Bellevue College received the Spark grant. The Spark grant gives schools $100,000 a year for five years to implement guided pathways and Corey displayed a five-year plan that would allow the college to make those campus-wide changes.

“I think this is going to happen anyway,” said Vice President of Instruction Tom Nielsen while in attendance of the town hall meeting. He said that guided pathways wouldn’t change the current structure of courses and degrees, but make available more prescriptive and clear paths for students to follow.

Nielsen noted that it’s harder to make a large change like adding guided pathways in a short amount of time, but believed that it was a direction that the college is moving towards. The Spark grant could afford BC resources to make those changes, so in Nielsen’s opinion, “the timing is perfect.”

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