1Redesigning Community Colleges for Student SuccessOverview of the Guided Pathways Approach*Davis Jenkins, Community College Research CenterTeachers College, Columbia UniversityRevised October 2014OVERVIEWIn most community colleges, students are left to navigate a complex and often confusing array ofprograms, courses and support services mostly on their own. Many students do not see a clear path totheir end goals, become frustrated, and drop out. A growing number of colleges and universities areredesigning academic programs and support services to create more clearly structured andeducationally coherent program pathways to student end goals, with built-in progress monitoring,feedback and support at each step along the way. These institutions are starting with the end in mind,working with education providers at the next level and with employers to ensure that program learningoutcomes are clearly aligned with the requirements for success in further education and careers. Andthey are rethinking their new student intake systems to help students choose and successfully enter aprogram of study as quickly as possible. They are doing this in ways that help guide students’ choices,but without limiting their options. These efforts are being implemented on a large scale—in some casesbenefitting thousands of students. They are beginning to produce results in terms of increased studentcompletion and learning.This overview describes the barriers to student success created by the way most community colleges arecurrently organized. It describes the key design features of the guided pathways model, describes theprocess for implementing it and outlines reasons why college leaders should consider doing so despitethe costs involved.DESIGNED FOR ACCESS, NOT SUCCESSResponding to the need to dramatically increase higher education access in the 1960s and 1970s,community colleges were designed to maximize enrollment at a low cost—and to do this with studentsmany of whom are not well-prepared to succeed in college. They give students a broad menu of courses,programs and delivery modes to choose from. They make it easy for students to enroll when it is*The main themes described here are explored in depth in a forthcoming book,Redesigning America’sCommunityColleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success, by Thomas Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars and Davis Jenkins, which willbe published by Harvard University Press in early 2015.
2convenient, allowing them to take only a couple courses at a time and to stop out and re-enroll at theirconvenience. They have also greatly expanded remedial offerings—over 60 percent of new collegestudents take at least one remedial course. Colleges use standardized tests to place students in thesecourses, which are often taught by part-time instructors, so they are relatively inexpensive to offer. Inrecent years, community colleges have greatly expanded on-line offerings, again with a view to making iteasy for students to access and (at least in theory) reduce the cost. However, the same features thathave enabled these institutions to provide broad access to college make them poorly designed tofacilitate completion of high-quality college programs—programs that foster deep student learning andprepare students for success in further education and employment. Specifically, the focus on low-cost