Strengthening the Counseling Voice for Guided Pathways

Cuyamaca College

Note: The following article is not an official statement of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The article is intended to engender discussion and consideration by local colleges.

Two years ago, guided pathways was at the door of Cuyamaca College, and while it had been on the doorstep for some time, the faculty realized that the door really needed to be opened. Guided pathways was making its way into the college regardless, and faculty needed to understand how that would change things, specifically in counseling. This situation led the Cuyamaca Counseling Department to embark on an inquiry journey, starting with a survey the department disbursed in May 2018. At the time of the Rostrum article “The Transformation of Counseling Along Guided Pathways Sidelines” in October 2018, [1] the department was at such beginning stages that the survey results were incredibly valuable to calming nerves and growing into the first layer of understanding what work lay ahead.

For the 2018 survey, counselors at colleges further along in their guided pathways work recommended four areas to focus on in early stages:

  • Counselor Involvement
  • Timing and Planning
  • Organized Guided Pathways Design Teams
  • Research, Consultations and Discussions

Cuyamaca College had just begun to formulate into organized guided pathways design teams and took every opportunity to involve counselors where possible. With that structure in place, the counselors quietly continued their research and discussions in-house because they knew that they, like the college, would be going through a transformation.

Staying with the notion that counseling is undoubtedly going to transform alongside guided pathways and being aware of the reality that sometimes decisions and changes can be made top down, the counseling department felt that any vision of a new guided pathways counseling model from the department would be best backed by inquiry first. Over the course of that following year, a colleague and I, both members of the department, went further into the inquiry phase and visited several California community colleges where counseling within student success teams was already being implemented. Conducting the case study visits and meetings really allowed us to go beyond what we originally had surveyed and dig deeper into design and function. We purposely looked at a campus similar to ours in size and student population. We looked locally at program model elements of interest, such as how student peer mentors could be used as a staffing resource. We had to examine elements and roles that we had a firm opinion on already but still needed to learn more about so that we could support conclusions as to why such practices may or may not be a good fit for our department. As we looked at various models at other colleges, we saw common positions in addition to the counseling faculty, such as instructional faculty, classified support roles, and student peer mentors. The possibility of including these positions has been shared with the college to open discussions for design.

While Cuyamaca’s counselors were envious of the staffing and resources that some counseling departments had, they did not waste time feeling sorry for themselves; rather, they utilized this information to support why they would need such resources in order to implement the kind of robust guided pathways counseling services they would want. They examined the roles that counselors played in the case study models and then utilized that information to help form a vision of what Cuyamaca’s should look like. Beyond identifying the specific functions of a counselor’s role in a Guided Pathways Student Success Team, the department created a visual crosswalk of the counselor functions against the four pillars of guided pathways. By creating this structure, the counselors could show how valuable their role is in helping a student under each pillar on the student journey. Developing this information together as a department was a huge accomplishment in laying a foundation and opening up discussions within the college about what potential positions the model would include and the need to define those roles mindfully when that time comes.

While Cuyamaca as a college has yet to develop a student success team model, the counselors have a firm grasp on what they feel their role would be within that student success team while allowing them to stay true to their discipline. They are the content experts for their profession as counselors and should be able to define how they are going to transform.

Cuyamaca College is still in the discovery and design phases of guided pathways, giving the counseling department time to share out what it has learned from its inquiry research to various groups on campus and speak about how counselors envision their role in guided pathways and student success teams. In comparison to instruction and administrative groups, the voice of the counselors in numbers is small, but having informed voices produces larger sound. Cuyamaca’s counselors have been fortunate to have a dean that is supportive of the department having time to conduct such inquiry. This opportunity has allowed the counseling department to feel more united and more prepared to participate in conversations about the changes that the college as a whole wants to make and to be informed as to how counselors could realistically transform themselves alongside it. The counselors now have less fear that change is coming because they have a better understanding of what support and resources are needed to embrace those changes.

Two years ago, the direction of the Cuyamaca Counseling Department in light of guided pathways was uncertain. Today, the department feels confident that it took the right approach in preparing for next steps when the time for further implementation comes. Change takes time, and sometimes taking advantage of that time can allow for better preparation and can in the end be a blessing.

1. See Nguyen, My-Linh. (2018, October). “The Transformation of Counseling Along Guided Pathways Sidelines.” Rostrum. Retrieved from the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges website at….