Guided Learning Pathways Take Shape
According to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, Guided Pathways is a whole-college redesign model intended to help students explore, choose, plan, and complete programs aligned with their career and education goals efficiently and affordably. Hundreds of colleges throughout the nation are implementing Guided Pathways reforms to improve student completion rates, close equity gaps, and increase enrollments in today’s competitive environment.
For more than seven years, Minneapolis College has been working to restructure its programs and student supports to follow the best practices of this national model, which calls for systemic changes in policies, practices, and systems in four key areas:
- Clarifying paths to student education and career goals
- Helping students get on a path
- Keeping students on a path
- Ensuring students are learning across programs.
“The Guided Learning Pathways framework streamlines the student experience in order to ensure they receive everything they need to support their education within the context of their personal lives,” said Heidi Aldes, Dean of Enrollment Management at Minneapolis College, who recognizes the individualized needs of each student who attends the College. “Students are provided structured choices, consistent support, and clear learning outcomes.”
As it continues to develop this model throughout all of its processes, Minneapolis College has launched a robust online orientation providing students a chance to prepare for the first day of classes by gaining a comprehensive understanding of campus resources, technology, health and behavioral clinic options, and more. It also has made improvements to its First Year Experience course to support students in developing a clear and efficient personal roadmap for their educational and career goals.
“Guided Pathways is more of a philosophy than an initiative,” said Gail O’Kane, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Minneapolis College. “At its heart, the Guided Pathways model challenges colleges and universities to remove unnecessary hurdles and barriers for students and makes the college environment less complicated for students to navigate. At Minneapolis College, we have added another element to the mode—reengineering the College to create a sense of belonging and foster community among students.”
An important example, key student service offices used to be scattered across campus. Over the past three years, the College moved all student service offices onto the second floor of its T building in one, easy-to-find place. Furthermore, they designed each of those spaces to feel welcoming for students and to reduce wait time for services. With that project nearly complete, Minneapolis College is now working on a plan to move and redesign academic spaces within each career/educational pathway to create spaces where like-minded students within each of the College’s eight academic schools can gather, study, collaborate, and feel a sense of community, a place to call home, more similar to the design of many four-year universities.
“We’re creating broad approaches that complement one another, help eliminate equity gaps in educational outcomes, and improve student outcomes from initial exploration to retention and graduation. We will keep tweaking things to give students what they need in a culturally and trauma-informed way,” said O’Kane. “It’s all about creating a better experience for our students. One that is guided by our values as a College and fosters community and inclusiveness for our students.”