Connor, a recent high school graduate, enrolls in community college because he believes it is the next logical step in his journey toward adulthood. He’s interested in law enforcement but also loves helping animals. He’s not sure which career path to pursue. He receives a packet of registration information and lengthy course lists. He asks himself, “Which courses should I sign up for? Will the credits transfer to a four-year college?” The answers are not clear, and he doesn’t know whom to approach for help. He is confused and overwhelmed, but he creates his course schedule anyway. After attending classes for several weeks, Connor begins to lose interest. His grades slip, and he soon drops out.
Without proper guidance, Columbia University researchers note, students like Connor “are often left to their own devices to pick a course of study and piece together their schedules” and “often waste time and money on courses that do not count toward a community college credential or a bachelor’s degree.” Academic support is always available, but students must seek it out, and those who need it most might be reluctant to ask for help. “Students from educationally and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, who tend to be disproportionately represented at community colleges, are often poorly prepared to navigate the college experience, which exacerbates equity gaps” (Jenkins, Lahr, Fink, & Ganga, 2018). These concerns have led to the redesigning of America’s community colleges.
To create more coherent educational pathways and improve student outcomes, many community colleges are redesigning their programs and services, as well as the onboarding process. This student-centered approach, called Guided Pathways, aims to improve graduation rates and narrow gaps in college completion by helping students know the steps they must take to prepare for a career. Jenkins et al. (2018) state, “With program maps as guides, students are supported from the very beginning of their college experience to explore career and academic options, choose a program of study, and develop a full-program educational plan.”
As of spring 2018, more than 250 community colleges in the United States had committed to implementing large-scale guided pathways reforms. The Community College Research Center of Columbia University’s Teachers College published a Guided Pathways practitioner’s packet to help institutions implement Guided Pathways. The packet includes case studies and tips for implementing pathways reforms.
How Librarians and LearningExpress Can Help
Librarians can play an important role in Guided Pathways reform. Rather than offer stand-alone information literacy sessions, librarians can lobby to include information literacy objectives in all program pathways. Doing so, Jaggars (2019) contends, will improve students’ capacity to “explore and weigh their major and career options.” In addition, librarians can locate valuable information resources to support student success throughout their community college experience.
For example, PrepSTEP for Community Colleges is an e-learning platform specifically designed to increase student retention, improve academic success, prepare students for occupational certification exams, and help them achieve their career goals. When paired with LearningExpress Job & Career Accelerator, PrepSTEP can help students improve academic skills, explore careers, prepare for occupational exams and build workplace skills. PrepSTEP’s practice tests, tutorials, DRM-free e-books, articles and other resources can effectively support the four pillars of the Guided Pathways model.
1. Map pathways to student end goals.
Use PrepSTEP content in building program plans to guide students from the very beginning of their college experience. Start with college placement tests, such as ACCUPLACER®, to assess their reading, writing and math skills. Their results will determine the most appropriate courses for their enrollment and help them avoid taking costly remedial classes that don’t count toward graduation goals.
2. Help students choose and enter program pathways.
Job & Career Accelerator’s skills and interest matcher quizzes and more than 1,300 occupation cards with informational videos can help students discover which careers they’d most like to pursue. They’ll learn about the educational requirements, licensing, expected earnings by state, as well as current and projected job openings.
3. Help students stay on path.
Students, particularly those attending online classes, may need a little guidance to stay on track. Increase retention with core skills review in math, science, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary. PrepSTEP resources include assessments, skill builder work, tutorials to explain concepts, and tests to check improvement.
4. Ensure students are learning.
PrepSTEP’s skill-building activities help students develop personally and professionally. Tutorials cover organizational strategies, classroom success skills, information literacy, computer and internet basics, Microsoft Office tools, money management and more.
PrepSTEP for Community Colleges is compatible with Blackboard, Canvas and Brightspace course management systems which means instructors can easily link to PrepSTEP content from their course reading and resource lists.