Faculty are essential to making sure students successfully navigate community colleges to earn degrees and launch careers—but they aren’t always as involved in that effort as they could be.
That’s one takeaway from a new report about the “guided pathways” model that hundreds of community colleges are now using to try to ensure students meet their educational and job goals. The model calls on institutions to provide students with strong academic advising, early opportunities for career exploration and clear sequences of courses that help students avoid earning unnecessary credits.
Called “Building momentum: Using guided pathways to redesign the student experience,” the report presents a baseline of data for measuring whether community colleges are making progress toward the goals of the guided pathway system, which include improving students’ rates of completing programs, transferring to four-year colleges and securing jobs. The findings are based on several surveys of community college students and faculty, both at institutions that have adopted the model and those that have not.
Faculty are important to these efforts because it’s their classrooms that serve as the primary point of connection between institutions and students, especially those whose personal responsibilities leave them little extra time to spend on campus, says Linda García, executive director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, which produced the report.
Nearly two-thirds of about 4,000 faculty at colleges using guided pathways reported they are somewhat or very involved in that work. Just 17 percent said the model has changed the learning outcomes for their classes, and 22 percent said the model has changed the role they play in advising students.
About half of faculty indicated that they would like more professional development on the role they can play in guided pathways work, and 58 percent said they thought such work would improve student outcomes.
Part-time faculty are less involved than full-time faculty in guided pathways work, according to the report. This poses a problem, because it’s part-time faculty who teach most classes at most colleges.
“I think with adjuncts, it can be a challenge for colleges to engage them in these conversations,” García says. “They go and teach, and then they leave.”
A report about how to help adjunct faculty become more involved in guided pathways work was published earlier this year by Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit that supports a network of community colleges.
That report recommends that colleges assess the career goals and professional development needs of their contingent faculty, invest in teaching and learning centers that provide relevant professional development support, reward faculty for their work and offer them more resources, and consistently communicate the importance of guided pathways goals and practices.