Developing Metamajors: Important Dialogue, Significant Process Evaluation, and Iterative Work

July
2019
Jeff Burdick, Clovis College
Julie Bruno, Sierra College
Janet Fulks, Bakersfield College
Carrie Roberson, Butte College

Guided Pathways is about changing the work, culture, organization, and evaluation of institutions by shifting from an institutional perspective to a student perspective. In doing so, faculty and colleges recognize that metamajors, if properly constructed, can provide students clarity in reaching their educational goals, and colleges can adjust student support, advising, and messaging, thereby reconceptualizing the journey from enrollment to educational plan completion.

To ensure success, the following questions can assist colleges in setting goals for their metamajor efforts:

  • What are the barriers a student faces in choosing an appropriate major (student knowledge, application process, clarity of the major choices)?
  • Are majors aligned to the job market, and does the student have easy access to understanding that alignment? Does the student have a way to envision and achieve life goals through this major?
  • Do students know what it takes to be successful in their specific majors (metacognition, skills acquisition, content knowledge, and self-evaluation)?
  • Are the time to completion and the cost of the major clear? Is the time factor realistic? Are the scheduling and enrollment management pieces in place to ensure velocity as well as success?

Clarifying program maps and organizing pathways by metamajors is only the beginning of work that will be iteratively improved for years to come. Faculty should not fall into the trap of thinking that the mission is accomplished simply because a sorting exercise has begun the process.

Creating metamajors requires that planning and implementation are based on new conversations. Not only is the effort grounded in the self-reflection of faculty and student support professionals within their individual disciplines and departments, but the foundation is broad: the dialogue and reflection involves virtually everyone on campus, including classified professionals, student services and instructional faculty, administrators, institutional researchers, and students. Although this larger conversation may be difficult, it is also one of the most valuable parts of the guided pathways effort where siloes are broken down and thinking and planning become more complex but more integrated.

In order to begin this difficult dialogue, colleges may use the following three useful observations with questions to spark inquiry:

1. Creating metamajors is not the silver bullet that changes everything. It is a process to discuss how to reorganize a college based on programs and pathways in contrast to courses or departments. It is an opportunity to break down departmental silos.

  • Are you planning program or metamajor meetings across disciplines and across services? Do not forget the counselors, student support professionals, financial aid, and other relevant departments.
  • Are you establishing clear goals for your metamajor work? Will you, for example, begin with employment opportunity data and work backward? Or will you begin with student interests and work forward?
  • Have you considered that some disciplines may be split into different metamajors based on the end, such as biology—allied health prerequisites versus biology—STEM majors?

2. Do first things first: Jumping into metamajors without preparation is a recipe for frustration.

  • Have you cleaned up your curriculum so that unoffered classes have been removed and co-requisites and pre-requisites are clearly delineated and included in the program paths?
  • Should additional transfer or CTE degrees be considered in order to serve student needs? How does the college know that the degrees and certificates, or majors, offered by the institution are serving your current students?
  • Determine your existing structure: Do your departments represent pathways or content areas? For example, is the economics department more aligned with math or with political or social sciences? Is the computer studies area aligned with CTE, business, or STEM? How might a department relate to two or more metamajors?
  • Review the college’s existing majors. Not all majors represent a transfer focus as defined in the content or discipline area. For example, a major in English, history, philosophy, or math could actually be earned by a student seeking a single subject credential, and the student may actually be an education major.

3. Metamajors are educational pathways, but they change the ways in which the entire college does business. How does the metamajor plan relate to your administrative, support, physical, organizational, and fiscal structures?

  • Will the college consider a structural reorganization to support or align with the metamajors? Would such a reorganization have an effect on college governance, either through collegial consultation with the academic senate or in participatory governance with all constituency groups?
  • Will counselors become case managers, embedded in metamajor areas, or will they take on some other new aspect of this important guidance role?
  • Will instructional faculty become more invested in advising on specific majors and careers, and, if so, how will their advising be integrated with the counseling information on transfer and general education?
  • Will job descriptions be affected such that contracts need to be adjusted?
  • Will classroom utilization and assignment need to change?
  • How will budgetary decisions support programs or metamajors instead of content areas or disciplines?
  • How will enrollment management change? How will it be accomplished in this new environment?
  • How will scheduling incorporate student education plans?

The development of metamajors is not just a re-sorting of programs; it is much more complex and more rewarding. The effort is iterative: new opportunities will introduce new complexities so that the work remains continuous and dynamic. Even individuals who have been engaged in the effort for years will continue to discover new questions and new methods of implementation.

Ultimately, creating metamajors is an effort to break down the historical structures that were built on convenience for the institution, such as separating student services and instruction into separate silos, and refocus on the needs of students.

Colleges may not be able to answer all these considerations now, but they should not enter the metamajor discussion without an understanding of the implications. If you have not already reviewed the existing metamajor webinar from the ASCCC (https://asccc.org/file/guided-pathwaysmetawhat-nov-7pptx) and determined guidelines for that process (https://asccc.org/file/guidelines-or-principles-developing-metamajors-fi...), you may wish to start by doing so. Above all, faculty and colleges should enter into this process realizing that it is long term, impactful, and not a one and done activity.

If you need assistance, you can call on the Guided Pathways Task Force members. They are available to visit local college campuses to help institutions develop and realize their own visions.

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