Pierce College to implement Pathways in fall quarter

Maddie Ashcraft, Photographer

Pierce College added a Guided Pathways section on its website on May 4, introducing the program to the college, which will change the way students study at Pierce College.

“(Guided Pathways) is a whole system redesign,” Matt Campbell, vice president of learning and student success at Pierce Puyallup, said.

The creation of Pathways began about three years ago, when college faculty noticed students’ difficulty in choosing courses and focusing on a career. Certificates like the associate degree require students to complete a few courses for credit distribution, but they are free to choose the rest of their classes.

While some students find the freedom of choosing courses beneficial, many end up wandering through credit distribution or are unable to graduate at their originally scheduled date. Campbell says the current system leaves students frustrated; with so many options, a student could easily become disengaged or lazy, picking courses seemingly at random.

Because of this, Pierce College has implemented Guided Pathways, a revolutionary system for community colleges focusing on career pathways from the start, and connecting students with the resources to help them succeed.

The program is composed of four pillars – Clarify the Path, Help Students Get on a Path, Help Students Stay on Their Path and Ensure Students are Learning.

With nearly 150 members composed of faculty, advisors, professors and classified staff, Pathways has become a team effort.

Guided Pathways focuses on six overall career “paths,” narrowing to more specific areas particular to student interests. As students begin their time at Pierce, they choose a path focusing on a specific major, and take part in classes relating to that field.

The six paths include Arts and Humanities, Business, Education, Healthcare, STEM and Social and Behavioral Sciences. Within each category, there are more specific paths, such as Anthropology or Kinesthesiology.

Campbell believes Pierce’s focus should continually connect back to the workforce.

“The idea is looking at the career from the beginning,” Campbell said.

By choosing a path, students ensure less wasted classes, additional quarters for lost credits, or credits that are unable to transfer. Overall, this allows for students to become more informed when choosing their courses and brings more structure to the college atmosphere.

“Where we thought students were exploring, students said, ‘No, we’re wandering,’” Campbell said.

Guided Pathways begins at registration. In the past, incoming students would attend a 60-90 minute orientation at Pierce, digesting a plethora of information without any real application. Through Pathways, large-group orientation is dissolved, and each new student receives a personal 45 minute meeting with an advisor to discuss their career options and desires. After an initial meeting, students are able to choose a designated pathway and register for courses related to the pathway.  

Each career map is carefully laid out, giving students the best course schedule for exploration in their field, while maintaining the requirements needed for completion. Every course, whether a philosophy class or natural science credit, is oriented around a student’s chosen pathway.

While students are offered guidance as to their course options for each quarter, they are not required to pick specific classes. Campbell says that if a student had a desire to take a specific course not directly related to their pathway, shifts can easily be made in the student’s credit map.

Without the Pathways system, Campbell said, choosing courses each quarter was akin to choosing a box of cereal – students would either go for what they were comfortable with, or choose something at random without an understanding of what was the better option. He said Pathways removes the mystery.

While students are encouraged to remain on a certain pathway, they are not inhibited from moving to another if necessary. A student’s first quarter is the time to become acquainted with a career path, and decide if it is truly the best option. Additionally, Campbell adds, each pathway continues to feature College 110 in a student’s first quarter, as this class is designed to give direction and allow for greater career exploration.

After a student chooses a path, there is one main goal – connections that bring success.

Rajesh Lal, Natural Science professor and Guided Pathways committee member, believes that the better connected students are, the more they will be able to achieve.

Currently, many Pierce students have external barriers that can hinder academic progress, such as food instability, housing instability, lack of transportation or childcare.  Additionally, Lal believes some have difficulty in becoming “college ready” through social, psychological or institutional obstacles. While Pierce provides a broad scope of services to all students, many are a challenge to locate or do not suit students’ true needs.

Guided Pathways seeks to bridge that gap. Observing student needs, Pierce staff have a greater understanding of what should be available to students.

“We thought, ‘what are the highlights of the student journey?’” Lal said. “We realized that every student is different but there are also many commonalities.”

Pathways seeks to eliminate barriers that hinder success by connecting students to resources in a more efficient and convenient manner.

The solution begins with Starfish – an online platform designed to augment human care and streamline the communication process. Starfish connects students to advisors, professors and services on campus through a central network. Previously, students in need would reach out to a specific department and wait for a response. Through the new program, students can “Raise a Hand,” contacting student services for a variety of needs in a timely manner.

Lal sees this connection playing out very practically.

“If a student has a housing issue, it should not take a week to help them, we should be able to help that day or the next day,” Lal said.

Instead of a plethora of services open to all, students are able to connect with the right departments as soon as they are in need.

The Starfish platform allows students to connect with advisors in a time-efficient manner. Gone are the days of back-and-forth emails to set-up an appointment; students are able to choose an open block of time within their adviser’s schedule with a click.

Lal sees the Starfish program as a huge benefit, promoting organization, communication and efficiency.

“The software solution is to augment human care,” Lal said.  “It is not a replacement; it will amplify what we do.”

Guided Pathways also seeks to inspire students towards excellence through a milestone achievement system called “Indicators for Action.”

The goal of the system is to affirm students through rewarding checkpoints reached, and helping guide students if they have difficulties in certain areas.

For example, students can receive “Kudos” for reaching a certain amount of credits, attending a transfer fair, or connecting with advisors. Students can also use “Flags” to focus on areas where they struggle to reach a milestone, known as “To Do’s.” Through Indicators for Action, students are encouraged to diligently participate in the career shaping process, giving them the ability to make tangible connections to their everyday learning.

As students continue through their courses on Guided Pathways, they build deeper connections with staff and their college as a whole, building up their success potential. While academic excellence is a deciding factor in reaching outcomes, Guided Pathways accounts for other aspects of student needs – physiological and social. “The three big things right now are identifying students needs,” Lal said. “Then  identifying what resources we have on and off campus, and how to connect them quickly in an accessible, practical way.” Acknowledging barriers students may encounter while at Pierce, Pathways seeks to eliminate stigmas in and out of the classroom, allowing students the freedom to speak up if they are in need, and to encourage students towards their career goals while growing intellectually. Lal recounts when students have been unable to purchase textbooks due to lack of funds, but feel unable to approach their professor about the issue because of a social stigma. By allowing for a more inclusive environment, students become willing to share their needs.

Pathways is also designed to promote career-focused learning in every courses. As Lal explains, “I teach a stats class, and I’ve been working on, what are the statistical skills needed in different careers?” By teaching his students how to use Excel rather than more formal statistical practices, Lal is ensuring his students are better prepared for their future workplace, whatever their career. Guided Pathways builds student success in all areas – intellectual, psychological and social.

For students currently at Pierce, however, there may be concern as to how their courses will coexist with the Pathways model. Pathways is designed for students to access a career map, regardless of their previous classes.

Current students can choose to join a pathway, adjusting their credits to decide what courses are needed to fulfill a certain vocational choice. However, students who have a prepared educational plan for graduation may continue, even as Pathways begins to take place. Similarly, students who join Pierce for only a few credits have the ability to opt into a pathway or follow a self-led plan.

Guided Pathways is redesigning the way colleges understand student success. While professional or technical degrees, such as the veterinary technician certificate, follow a specific course pattern, Guided Pathways is a completely new system for community colleges.

“Our goal is to help students be as informed as possible about the choices they are making,” Campbell said.

Created to better a student’s academic journey, the implementation is just beginning to take place. While Pierce has already begun 45-minute registration sessions with students, each career pathway will open in fall 2018.

A survey connecting students to necessary services will  become fully functional in fall quarter, with the Starfish program following in winter quarter. Guided Pathways is designed to better the student experience by encouraging a career focused atmosphere, even in initial stages of college attendance.

“We want students to feel a sense of belonging to the college, and to their pathway,” Lal said.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning news media of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2018. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube @thepuyalluppost

Maddie Ashcraft
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Pierce College to implement Pathways in fall quarter

by Maddie Ashcraft time to read: 7 min