Access is a fundamental principle of California’s community colleges. Many of us came to this system because we believe, perhaps more than anything else, that everyone deserves a chance. But an open door isn’t the same as an equitable opportunity. Once students pass through that door it’s up to us – individually and collectively – to provide them with support and guidance to realize the opportunity that is the implicit promise of access.
As a system, California Community Colleges have done relatively well providing access to over two million students enrolled in any given year. But it’s also true we lose substantial numbers of students at every step along the path they travel to reach their goals. At GCC, more than 4,000 students a year submit applications but never register for classes, and roughly 48% of those who do register will not persist from one year to the next. The chart below illustrates the number of GCC students who achieve the goals they identify upon entry to the college.
Figure 1. The chart shows success milestones, also known as momentum points, for credit students entering GCC in Fall 2012 (irrespective of race or ethnicity). Source: GCC MIS data submission; GCC’s Campus Profile
Student Equity data shows the situation is even grimmer for low-income students and students of color (see GCC’s Student Equity Plan).
While it is clear there is room for all students to improve, students who lack academic and social capital are least likely to receive important information and services that will help them achieve their goals. To some degree, this is the result of the structure we have created for the college, one that divides us into three distinct and separate areas: Instructional Services, Student Services, and Administrative Services. This structure is largely invisible to students and has evolved to support institutional practice rather than reflect students’ expectations and needs. Consequently, the organizational map of GCC held by most of its employees does not correlate with the way students expect to experience the college or with that which corresponds to their needs.
Figure 2. From RP Group's Student Support (Re)defined Project (rpgroup.org/student-support)
It is essential then that we do more to help students navigate their path to college success. This is a central theme in the Guided Pathways framework. (For more information, see last month’s Chaparral article on Guided Pathways). And it is an aspiration many colleges are embracing, one adopted by the Governor of California, the state legislature, and the Community College Chancellor’s office. Serious questions remain, however, about the ways in which institutions can implement a Guided Pathways framework while reaching every student in an equitable way.
This was the question that faced faculty, staff, and administrators at GCC when it became clear that implementing Guided Pathways was not only a priority for the California Community College system, but also an opportunity to merge many of the GCC’s most important initiatives and practices into a single student-oriented system.
Constructing the pathways themselves represents a substantial challenge in terms of examining and reinventing our business practices and culture to form a unified system. Constructing a technological framework for such a transformation presents an equally complex challenge. Past history indicates that the attempt to invent such a framework on our own would likely result in a long, frustrating, and expensive process that may or may not be successful in the long run. With this in mind, college leaders began exploring the option of an existing solution, one that would meet the needs of the institution and, most importantly, its students. After examining a number of options, and with the help of IT, instructional and Student Services faculty, division chairs, staff, and administration, EAB (Educational Advisory Board) Navigate emerged as the strongest and most effective solution. After this initial identification, Navigate went through an extensive vetting process that culminated with a presentation and discussion that included a broad selection of faculty, staff, and administrators from Instruction, Student Services, and Administrative Services. Surveys collected from that event indicated overwhelming support for the adoption of Navigate, and, as a result, the college elected to acquire and implement the platform.
EAB Navigate is a technological framework built on a foundation of research articulated in Redesigning America’s Community Colleges (Bailey, Jaggers, & Jenkins, 2015) and the implementation practices identified by the American Association of Community Colleges, as well as the Educational Advisory Board’s own research. It is a framework that, from the ground up, helps colleges realize a Guided Pathways vision. It is described by EAB as “a student-facing technology platform designed to help students manage their academic and non-academic lives. Through the platform, students can connect effectively with the full range of activities and resources available at the College. Students will access their to-do list and other time-sensitive tasks through ‘My Path’ all the while getting personalized guidance early and often. These ‘Paths’ guide students through enrollment, registration, connecting with their [counselors], discovering health and wellness offerings, understanding their semester bill, and more. Because Navigate is tailored for individual students, it is the main means for academic and administrative offices to communicate with students.” (https://www.eab.com/-/media/EAB/Technology/Student-Success-Navigate/Navigate%20Adoption%20Toolkit/Driving%20Navigate%20Adoption%20Toolkit_Tool_4.pdf)
Figure 3. Major Navigate features built to help colleges realize Guided Pathways Pillars; Excerpted from EAB Navigate implementation materials
It is our expectation that Navigate will facilitate the implementation of Guided Pathways at GCC, and that the considerable expertise and research that has contributed to its development will make implementation more effective. It is important, though, to emphasize that Navigate is not Guided Pathways. It is a foundation on which we will build the student-facing aspect of our Guided Pathways framework, but the real work of implementation, and the transformation it represents, is a human effort. It requires a commitment from all of us – a commitment to our students, and to building a framework that helps us fulfill the promise of access by providing the support and guidance necessary for student success.