Linn-Benton Community College has just an 18 percent student completion rate. Though many students transfer, that only brings the completion rate up to 33.5 percent, according to CollegeMeasures.org.
In September 2015, LBCC was chosen as one of 30 community colleges nationwide to participate in the Pathways Program, funded by a $5.2 million grant from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“In technology we talk about things being intuitive. Well, we’d like to have educational pathways be intuitive too,” said Greg Hamann, president of LBCC.
Guided Pathways, as it is commonly known, is an institutional restructuring aimed to increase student success and completion. It begins with their ultimate educational goals and works backwards from there, clarifying a student’s trajectory and setting them on a focused path towards the workforce or further education, all while actively monitoring and advising them throughout the process.
This program has not been fully fleshed out, but several colleges have implemented it with initial success, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).
“It takes three years to implement and probably takes a lot more than that to actually get it fully running but we’re committed to having Guided Pathways fully implemented by fall of 2018,” said Hamann. “We’re working like crazy to do that; that’s a lot of work and it’s great work.”
Out of 200 community colleges that applied, LBCC is one of 30 and the only college in Oregon selected.
“It was a competitive selection process, quite rigorous,” said Ann Buchele, vice president of academic affairs and workforce development at LBCC.
Buchele has spearheaded both the application and implementation process for the Pathways Program at LBCC.
“It isn’t just an overlay, it’s actually about changing the way in which we design programs for students,” said Hamann.
Each college develops advisor programs and degree pathways to fit the specific needs of their campus.
“It’s not a one size fits all necessarily,” said Buchele.
These tailored program pathways will simplify scheduling classes not just for students, but also for faculty and staff.
“Our goal is by June 2017, every program has a map so students know what to take each term from beginning to end,” said Buchele.
New students unsure of their path would choose from “meta-interest areas” that will help guide them in the right direction even if they aren’t exactly sure where they are going just yet.
Department Chair for New Program Development and Short Term Training Stacy Mallory has worked in health care education for 15 years and seen the benefits of “prescriptive” type education programs firsthand.
“When I look at Guided Pathways, I see it as an extension of something that we know works really, really well, and has been very successful in the health care programs for all of these years,” said Mallory. “Now we are kind of ramping it up and making it a more global, community-college-strategic initiative.”
According to Mallory, most health care programs have a completion rate between 80 and 90 percent, far above LBCC’s college-wide 18 percent average.
“I think what Guided Pathways really does is it allows students to know what the focused path is, and they can make choices along the way if they want to deviate, but they’ll also understand if they deviate what the consequence is, whether it’s more cost or more time,” said Mallory.
But not everyone on campus agrees on what the best options are for students. The classic liberal arts education involves a well-rounded study in many fields, and some insist these kind of options are key to a good education.
The AACC describes this type of education as “cafeteria colleges,” institutions with a multitude of educational options available to increase higher education access.
“At cafeteria colleges, the best pathways that students can take into and through programs of study and to their career or further-education end goals are not clear. There are too many choices, programs lack educational coherence, and students’ progress is not monitored,” AACC wrote on its website.
LBCC’s conversations about the Pathways Program have brought many questions to the surface: Should general education be an exploratory, smorgasbord of options for students? Or should it provide breadth and depth to a program that will lead to a specific job or skillset?
“They’re tricky conversations,” said Mallory.
The staff of LBCC posses a variety of different opinions about what general education is, and they are discussing how to move forward with the program without losing the integrity of a broad education.
Regardless, the campus community is having these conversations, and many are involved. As LBCC establishes the program, Buchele and Mallory welcome feedback and interest from faculty and students.
“I still believe you have to find your passion,” said Mallory. “That one class, that one teacher, that one whatever it is; that still has to occur.”
Article by Emily Goodykoontz