Pathways on the Ground

If the Guided Pathways project remains a fuzzy concept to you, it probably means your school is not participating in the pilot programs. As noted here often, Pathways is not just another flavor of the month. It is an orchestrated strategy designed to improve graduation rates by reducing random student choices that may not count toward a degree or certificate. There is more to it, of course. For background, check out this piece by Katherine Mangan, in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

It’s always good to get a view of what colleges are doing on the ground to implement a new program. Students starting at McLennan Community College this fall will select one of six academic pathways designed to encourage graduation and a focus on career options, according to an article in the Waco Tribune-Herald, by Philip Ericksen.

The choices (which some writers refer to as meta-majors) include: business and industry; creative arts; health professions; liberal arts; public service; and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Students are not forced to make a choice before their first semester at MCC, and all authorities stress that students can change their minds.

It’s hard to imagine any course in the present curriculum that can’t fit in one or more of the above categories. The chief casualties of Guided Pathways involve elective courses, many of which are popular with students, ideally launching an intellectual journey with great promise. But the numbers so far indicate more success with more focus, and early.

In the best-case scenario, let’s take a student who is a fan of “Grey’s Anatomy,” and concludes that the medical field is a good fit. However, TV characters generally don’t solve algebraic equations on camera. So our student postpones serious math, and wants to get into the scrubs STAT! It’s probably best for this student to deal with math as soon as possible so he or she can get help, or at least find out what modern medicine is really like—lots of math, science, and applied logic.

In the worst-case scenario, our student is utterly clueless, guided prematurely onto an unfit and unhappy pathway. How many of you decided at age 18 (much less 16 or 17) that you wanted to be a community college educator? Probably not many, but perhaps you had a favorite subject. It’s a start.