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Clark Steers Towards Guided Pathways: New Committee to Oversee Transition

“This story will be updated with further developments.

There is nothing glamorous about 20 Clark faculty, staff, administrators and students packed into a small chemistry lab on a Friday afternoon. But this unimpressive scene marked the start of a project that administrators say will fundamentally change the college in the coming years.

Clark’s Guided Pathways steering committee met for the first time on April 21 to begin the five-year transition to the the new class organization model.

Clark College President Bob Knight identified Guided Pathways as the college’s top priority to boost retention rates last January. According to Associate Vice President of Planning and Effectiveness Shanda Diehl, schools that implement the Guided Pathways model see their student retention rate go up by 20 percent or more.

Clark currently runs by a “cafeteria model,” where students know what their degree requirements are but aren’t provided a specific path to meeting them. In the new system,  incoming students will choose between a group of structured programs, which administrators say will lead more efficiently to jobs and transfers.

According to chemistry professor and steering committee co-chair Karl Bailey, “Guided Pathways means finding a program where we can tell you what you’re gonna need to study and when, how long it’ll take you, how much it’ll cost you and what you can do with your degree when you’re done.”

The steering committee members at the first meeting used flashcards to organize dozens of programs into intuitive categories. The goal was to create class groupings or “meta-majors” to provide the foundation for Clark’s Pathways and arrange them in an understandable format for new students.

According to Bailey, six to 10 categories is “the sweet spot, where you’re giving people enough options without overwhelming them.”

The committee members faced challenges like where to place niche programs like Culinary Arts and whether to group classes by interest areas or by what kind of degree or job they could lead to. Bailey said the committee intends to address these questions, finalize the “meta-majors” and come up with a better name for them by the end of Spring quarter.

Student Affairs Guided Pathways liaison and steering committee co-chair Margit Brumbaugh said the committee is also deciding which programs will be in wave one, scheduled for conversion to the Pathways system in 2018-19 and which will be in wave two, the year after. Brumbaugh said the wave one will likely focus on programs that are already highly structured, like nursing.

Students got the chance to provide input on the program on April 27, when Bailey led two groups of around 15 students in the sorting exercise, where they encountered many of the same issues as the steering committee.

Some students said that while they liked the idea of Pathways, it didn’t seem like a drastic change.

“I think it depends on what you’re looking for,” said Activities Programming Board Family Events Coordinator Chloe Casey. “If you’re here for a general transfer degree it might not change that much.”

But transfer student Daniel Jacobsen said a clearer outline of classes could expedite transfers too.

“It might give me a better view of what the future holds for my education,” Jacobsen said. “Like oh, I need to do three more credits of this or five more of that; I should get that done now.”

Brumbaugh said she and Bailey will also conduct the flashcard exercise with College 101 classes and release a survey to students for input.

According to Bailey and Brumbaugh, the switch to Pathways will affect more than just classes.  

“It’s not just academics, it’s all areas of campus,” Bailey said. “Student support services [like advising and career services] wrap around that, how we introduce you to the program, how we keep you in the program and how we get you through to that job or that transfer.”

Art professor Grant Hottle, who is on the steering committee, said he hasn’t “fully drunk the kool-aid yet.” Hottle said he worries that despite Clark’s commitment to pay for Pathways funding, issues could hinder those wraparound services.

“Funding is hard to come by these days,” Hottle said. “Sometimes I hear expressed concern around the campus from my colleagues that this might wind up being essentially an unfunded mandate… Like with learning communities, that no longer exist now because they are expensive. We had this big five-year push for learning communities, but because they’re expensive they had to go away.”

But according to Brumbaugh, Pathways could improve services like advising without requiring more money.

“The Pathways model gives us the opportunity to do real meaningful group advising,” Brumbaugh said. “Students will have identified at least a meta-major they’re interested in… We’re not necessarily gonna have more advisers, but that will allow advisers to serve more students at once, in a more meaningful way.”

Hottle said he joined the steering committee to make sure that Pathways isn’t put in place at the expense of students’ choices.

“I agree with the idea that Pathways has the potential to really help students,” Hottle said. “[But] I want to make sure we don’t overlook some students’ desire for lots of option and choice.” Hottle said that one option the committee had discussed was having an “undecided pathway,” which focused on getting first-year core classes taken care of while allowing you to use your electives more liberally.

To make the transition to the new model more efficiently, the college hopes to participate in a Pathways Institute, where college officials would learn from Guided Pathways experts at the American Association of Community Colleges.

“We would pay $45,000 a year [for the Institute training],” Bailey said. “It’s a lot of money, but the benefit from those services will end up paying for itself.”

Bailey said Clark will consult a progress report released last month from a group of 30 colleges already participating in a Pathways Institute to learn from their mistakes and develop the best practices for installing the model.

The steering will meet every other week throughout the five-year transition process.

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