Guided Pathways Data and the Faculty Role

February
2019
Janet Fulks, Bakersfield College

As institutions begin to re-examine the effects Guided Pathways will have on them and on their students, the types of data colleges will want to review include new measures such as the average number of units to complete a certificate, degree, or transfer in the latest three years of awards and the number of students achieving awards. Faculty need to be a part of these conversations because analyzing the data and contextualizing the many variables are key to determining whether the data are indicating issues such as the following:

  • unclear pathways
  • too many units
  • scheduling barriers
  • program marketing or
  • program review issues.

Using data with the Guided Pathways framework will require that colleges look at new information beyond the student success data typically tracked. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) Scorecard intentionally tracks students for 6 years; therefore, the most current data for 2018 is only a cohort of students that started in 2012. However, the Guided Pathways framework relies on data that helps students achieve their goal sooner and at a lower cost. Guided Pathways cohorts are usually tracked in several ways that focus on “First-Time in College” students to clarify which students are currently starting and ideally connecting to a pathway with an educational goal versus students who are taking classes for other reasons. The ASCCC Guided Pathways Glossary describes a First Time in College student as “one who has never been to college before. The majority are just out of high school and research indicates that these students are more likely to complete a program of study. Key Progress Indicators (KPIs), as developed by American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), focus on these students.”[1]

Guided Pathways data will need to use students’ transfer or degree applicable units as a means to compare across degrees. Including basic skills units will provide even greater depth of understanding for the pathway. In addition, comparing units completed and units attempted will help to align support strategies along particular pathways. Acceleration and multiple measures may contribute to success but also to a reduction of cost and time. Tracking multiple measures and acceleration data may therefore be helpful and informative. Finally, the data included in a pathways model is heavily invested in curriculum alignment along the path and with the transfer institutions. Colleges need to consider how they will track, quantify, and use these various data points to tell the students’ story.

Examining data is crucial because current metrics are not representing the true picture in Guided Pathways. One example of this problem is the useful but incorrect Scorecard metric regarding completion of transfer-level English in one year and two years. English composition is a graduation requirement and therefore is required by all students who plan to graduate, but at many colleges Freshman Composition or English 1A, which are found in the English TOP (taxonomy of Programs) code 1501, are not the only courses that can satisfy the graduation and transfer composition requirements. Other courses that provide this same credit are found in the ESL (TOP code 4930) and in Reading (TOP code 1520) as well as writing courses within other disciplines.[2] This lack of appropriate input data leads to under-reporting the actual number of completions by neglecting curricular details with which most researchers are not familiar. This issue is even more substantial when looking at the Scorecard metric related to math and quantitative reasoning.[3] The appropriate fix is not to include more TOP codes in the metric analysis, as doing so would include all courses in those disciplines, but rather to create a new coding for courses that satisfy the requirements for transfer-level composition and for transfer-level math and quantitative reasoning.

Many analyses of data have been reported in the Scorecard, Launchboard, and other research reports. However, these data from the CCCCO are based upon TOP codes and not degrees or awards, so they are not actionable. The extent to which TOP codes line up with programs is very important, as that alignment represents the pathways colleges are trying to clarify, and TOP codes often obfuscate the real program. Some work has begun on addressing this issue at the state level, but faculty will need to be invested in the details locally. Meanwhile, guided pathways colleges will need to analyze the data at each site based on unique program codes that are the same as unique course codes or CB01.

Guided pathways colleges should ask questions like the following:

  • How many units does the average student take to get an AA?
  • Why do some areas include more than 60 or 70 units?
  • How do the transfer (AA-T and AS-T) degrees line up with these numbers?
  • Are the average units the result of intentional course-taking, scheduling, or student issues outside of class?
  • How does general education coursework impact a degree path?
  • How can general education coursework enhance a degree path?
  • Does the college need to separate out programs with pre-requisites that may be equivalent to a degree such as “Nursing, Respiratory Therapy or Radiology”? How can the college count these units fairly?

These new analyses will provide a treasure trove of questions and answers to gain new insight about the institution.

Finally, one point that is important in considering student populations and their life responsibilities is whether colleges should talk about students being on-plan versus on-time for graduation. The majority of students in the community college system are parttime. Colleges should consider the degree to which part-time status might be forced upon some students as the result of scheduling practices. Many students are also managing additional life responsibilities and may therefore elect to take fewer courses in order to work or fulfill other obligations, but colleges should be transparent in their discussions with students about how long a degree will take when a student creates a plan that does not fit the 15 units-a-semester standard that allows a 60 unit degree to be completed in two years. If the majority of students are not pursuing a two-year plan, colleges should help them consider the true cost and time and likelihood of successful completion. Faculty must work to understand the data so that they can become relentlessly clear and transparent when communicating with students, because the goal or mission is to get students on a plan and help them complete that plan.


1. The glossary is available at https://asccc.org/sites/default/files/ASCCC%20GP%20Glossary%20of%20Terms.... Additional tools the ASCCC uses in working with faculty on Guided Pathways can be found at https://asccc.org/sites/default/files/Guided_Pathways_KPI_At_A_Glance_0.pdf https://asccc.org/sites/default/files/Using_the_Launchboard_for_KPIs_0.pdf

2. Courses satisfying freshman composition and transfer in AS SIST include Academic Composition for ESL at American River College, Reading and Composition at Citrus College, Advanced Composition in the ESL TOP CODE at Cosumnes River College, Advanced Composition and Reading at Foothill College, Advanced Composition in an ESL TOP code at Santa Ana College, and others that are not included in the metric although they satisfy the outcome.
3.  Over 1400 transfer level courses are listed as fulfilling the math and quantitative reasoning requirement in CSU breadth area B4. Many of these courses are not TOP coded as math (TOP code 1701) but rather under the behavioral science statistics sociology, psychology, computer science, biostats, or business math TOP codes.

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