According to a study by Complete College America, college students are taking too long to graduate, resulting in unnecessary additional tuition and higher dropout rates.

For a 2-year Associates Degree, the average amount of credits needed to graduate is 60. However, studies show that students are averaging 78.8 credits, which could result in an additional 1-3 semesters. Studies show that lack of guidance and planning are the major contributors to the excessive credits problem. Many colleges offer over 100 majors and courses, causing confusion for students which results in uninformed decisions. Without proper guidance and structure, students have difficulty in road mapping the courses needed to graduate and fulfill their degree requirements.

Many schools are turning to Guided Pathways as the solution to this issue. By utilizing technology, Guided Pathways allow students to enter into structured degree plans, not just individual courses. Every semester or quarter is mapped out for their entire program, guaranteeing required courses are available when needed. Through the entire program, students can utilize just-in time advising to ensure their degree program meets their future career and educational goals.

Developing a Guided Pathways Program

When developing a guided pathways program, you want to start with the end goal in mind. According to McKinsey & Company, five key practices appear to raise degree productivity without compromising quality or access: “systematically enabling students to reach graduation, reducing nonproductive credits, redesigning delivery of instruction, redesigning core support services, and optimizing noncore services and other operations”. A successful Guided Pathways program can touch all on five of these crucial practices.

Guided Pathways designs may differ slightly by institution, but all strategies should have these six components:

  1. Default Pathways
    • All programs are fully mapped out and aligned with education and career advancement
    • Critical courses and milestones are clearly identified
  2. Informed Choice
    • Students are provided with information on careers and further study BEFORE choosing their pathway
    • Utilize high school performance and recommend broad pathways
  3. Meta-Majors
    • Based on goals and interests, students choose a meta-major; for example, Information Technology or Business
  1. Academic Maps
    • Prescriptive map of each term, which courses the student will take, and hour many credits they will earn, based on their pathway
  2. Milestone courses
    • Courses that must be taken each term, typically in a recommended sequence
    • Institution must agree to guarantee courses will be available if the sequence is followed properly
  3. Intrusive Advising
    • Student must consult with an advisor if their milestone courses are off-schedule, if they fall two or more courses behind on their map or if they have a 2.0 GPA or less

In order to develop a program that fits within your institutions’ abilities and goals, collaboration between faculty and advisors is key. Departments across campus should work together to develop the most effective sequence of courses, as well as monitor each pathway to assess any issues or improvements that can be made. The Community College Resource Center recommends establishing a “steering team–made up of faculty, student services staff, and administrators—who analyze current pathways, examine how effectively each college monitors students and help develop recommendations for a comprehensive plan”.

Integrating Orientation with Guided Pathways

Guided Pathways are a lifecycle process and should begin before a student enrolls in a college or university. With Comevo’s flexible online orientation software, custom content can be delivered to prospective or incoming students by meta-major, location, GPA, or any other factor that is used to develop your pathways. Its SIS interface allows for portal integration and the auto-release of registration holds, ensuring all your systems are connected and provide the best experience for the student.