Guided Pathways and Governance: Avoiding the Fate of Sisyphus

Virginia "Ginni" May, ASCCC Treasurer, Guided Pathways Task Force Chair
Eric Thompson, Santa Rosa Junior College, Guided Pathways Task Force

At the outset of the California Guided Pathways Project, colleges struggled with where in their governance processes guided pathways efforts would reside. Many colleges set up separate guided pathways committees or task forces and assigned various existing and new staff from faculty, administration, and even classified professionals to lead the efforts. Many of these very same colleges are now restructuring their governance systems to accommodate guided pathways efforts, often feeling like Sisyphus rolling a huge boulder up a hill. Just when a college believes it has its governance system set up for guided pathways, it finds it has to start again.

In fall 2016, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office successfully worked with the legislature and the governor to enact the California Community Colleges Guided Pathways Grant Program, more commonly referred to as the Guided Pathways Award Program, into the 2017-18 Budget Act. Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC) President Julie Bruno wrote in the February 2017 Rostrum, “In considering the implementation of any pathways program, discussions are and should be collaborative, involving participation from all constituent groups on campus including students, staff, and administrators. However, certain characteristics that are inherent in all pathways establish the obligation for academic senates and faculty to be at the core of the effort... In other words, pathways land squarely within the 10 + 1 (p. 2). [1] More than a year later, Jeff Burdick, a member of the Guided Pathways Task Force and former member of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, wrote in the April 2018 Rostrum, “Each of the 114 colleges has committed to creating some version of a guided pathways framework, but no one has a template. There are no rainmakers or software programs or magic genies that will ‘pathway’ your college. Your mission, vision, values, and culture are where your pathway begins, and your strategic planning structure is where it will be built. Since this is a faculty-driven project, this is our chance to point our individual colleges toward excellence” (p. 18). [2] These statements are apt articulations of faculty purview in guided pathways projects.

In the meantime, the ASCCC adopted several resolutions that were responses to the lack of genuine consultation with the Academic Senate on the guided pathways project by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. Academic Senate leadership has contended that at times much of the project has not been faculty driven. [3] The state-level tension between administrative drive and academic senate purview is often mirrored locally. An inevitable friction exists in the governing of guided pathways implementation. On one hand, guided pathways efforts are cross-functional, as is specifically called for in the Self-Assessment and Scale of Adoption forms. In addition, guided pathways should be collaborative: faculty, student, administrative, and classified staff perspectives and skill sets should all be involved, and indeed must be involved, to accomplish the project’s goals. On the other hand, guided pathways efforts should be faculty driven; moreover, they should be faculty-owned, as is so often repeated, mantra-like, and in recognition of which the chancellor has made the academic senate president a necessary signatory. A tension is thus created regarding how cross-functional and faculty-driven goals can both be realized.
The California Community Colleges are now entering the third year of a five-year period for funding to implement a guided pathways framework under the Guided Pathways Award Program. Although most people will agree that full implementation could take up to ten years, colleges would do well to have their governance structures in place as early as possible. Various approaches are being pursued.


Tri-chair models are popular. This structure often entails a faculty tri-chair with reassigned time appointed by the academic senate, an administrative tri-chair appointed by the president, and a classified tri-chair. While the process of reassigned duties for faculty, which have a minimal cost of what it takes to back-fill their classes with adjunct instructors, is a very familiar one, compensating administrative and classified professionals is more complicated. More to the point, this structure may muddy the waters of senate purview. Since guided pathways ask institutions to rethink their operations from a student perspective, and since faculty, represented by the academic senate, define the curriculum that students need to succeed in and what student success in courses and programs looks like, the Guided Pathways Project is an opportunity to recover and revitalize the concept that administration and classified professionals exist to support the institution’s educational purpose which is, at its core, a transaction between faculty and student. At its best, that is what Guided Pathways should be doing.

Tri-Chair models certainly can work, but their success depends on who the participants are and to what extent they understand and have experience in the actual in-the-trenches process of facilitating student acquisition of knowledge and skill. Administrator and classified perspectives can augment and support faculty and student interaction toward educational achievement or they can run counter to it, depending on where those personnel sit and what experience they bring to the table. Many administrators have come from the ranks of faculty, but others have not. Their prior experience will determine how effectively they will be able to inform the guided pathways restructuring, the whole point of which is to help students succeed in their academic programs.


At some institutions, the academic senate has assumed full leadership regarding guided pathways. At Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC), as an example, the local academic senate has essentially prevailed in an argument with the district that guided pathways efforts fall squarely under the 10+1 academic and professional matters detailed in the California Code of Regulations Title 5 §53200. Therefore, the academic senate directly oversees the enterprise. Reaching this point was a process. For the first year of guided pathways planning and implementation, a large steering committee of representatives from each cross-functional constituency led the work of inquiry. Now that the college has moved on to the design phase, the academic senate has pressed the point that, since the guided pathways reformations the college has chosen to work on are thoroughly academic and professional matters in which deans and classified professionals play important but supporting roles and which are informed by student insights, faculty properly belong in the driver’s seat.

The full SRJC academic senate debated and voted on the areas of guided pathways to design and implement and on principles of governance. The academic senate executive committee works out the details. The allocation of funds has been put entirely under the control of the academic senate. The lion’s share of the funds goes to faculty work group leads in the form of reassigned time to do the research and design work. Some funds are reserved to provide incentives for student participation, which often means food; student members of guided pathways work groups are appointed by student government and paid an hourly wage from the student government budget. Participation of classified staff may also require compensation. Administrative colleagues are assigned to the work within their job duties. Since the funds are mostly allocated for faculty reassigned time, the structure goes to the faculty union and a memorandum of understanding is created.

Deans on SRJC’s four guided pathways teams advise, and their participation is valued, but the team leads are faculty. After much discussion, the academic senate decided not to have a “GP Czar” who would head the effort. Rather, the faculty leads report directly to the academic senate, and the senate executive committee meets with two administrators assigned to be guided pathways support, one from student services and one from academic affairs. Classified and student involvement is harder to acquire, but the college is still working on it. One downside of this approach is that it takes time, and some people become frustrated by the slowness of progress. Advantages are that it distributes the work, relieves the Sisyphus effect, fully honors democratic processes, and is faculty driven.


Some institutions have a faculty member with reassigned time, which usually varies from 50% to 100%, or an administrator who is solely responsible for oversight and coordination of the college’s guided pathways efforts. Having a guided pathways “czar” provides the benefit of a dedicated coordinator that can unify the efforts, and if the coordinator is a faculty member it may keep the 10 + 1 purview of the academic senate in the forefront of the initiative. The downside is that a single person may have difficulty representing the perspectives of many disciplines. This structure may be more efficient but also may make avoiding a top-down approach harder and may intensify the Sisyphus effect.


Of course, many other structures are possible. Whatever structure of guided pathways governance exists within a college, the local academic senate should exercise its rights and take on the responsibility to lead the efforts. ASCCC resolutions passed two years ago fully support the leadership roles of the academic senate in guided pathways efforts: Resolution 17.02 F17, which affirmed “the right of local academic senates and senate leaders to play central roles in the development of all elements of a guided pathways framework at their college that are relevant to academic and professional matters,” and Resolution 17.05 F17, which asserted that “it is the role and purview of the local academic senate to appoint faculty to provide leadership or serve on college or district groups that design and implement a college’s guided pathways framework or program, including those faculty that receive release or reassigned time to serve” and urged local senates “to establish processes to appoint faculty to provide leadership or serve on college or district groups that design and implement guided pathways frameworks or programs, including those faculty that receive release or reassigned time to serve.”

Cross-functional participation in guided pathways is vital, as the ASCCC does and always has affirmed, but the above-cited resolutions call for academic senate purview to be “central” and to give direction to all aspects of guided pathways reforms. Now that colleges and their academic senates are enmeshed in guided pathways implementation and are possibly re-examining their governance processes, faculty should call out the areas of the 10+1 academic and professional matters that directly address guided pathways—and all areas of the 10+1 may apply under various circumstances.

Avoid the fate of Sisyphus. Work with college constituencies while giving the guiding place to the faculty expertise represented by the academic senate to integrate guided pathways efforts into governance structures. Doing so will help ensure that the college does not have to continue re-examining and establishing the roles of leadership in guided pathways efforts because ownership will be widespread, since shared governance is honored. Such a structure will ensure that the expertise of the faculty in academic and professional matters will imbue the guided pathways effort, as it should.



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