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Most Common Questions Regarding Guided Pathways

Is Cosumnes River College still deciding whether or not to participate in Guided Pathways?

  • No, we are a Guided Pathways college.
  • The campus community began initial conversations about the concept of Pathways since 2016, and has been engaged in Pathways work since this time. We began conversations through the IEPI, and then had members from all constituency groups participate in an exploratory task force. Many faculty members were represented during these early discussions, and reported on the preliminary results.
  • Cosumnes River College was accepted into the California Guided Pathways Project after the application was reviewed by and voted on in an open meeting of the Academic Senate meeting last year.
  • Open Forums for discussion and campus-wide input were held in the Spring, Summer and Fall of 2017. The Guided Pathways Steering Committee has actively sought out faculty members, staff and students to voice their thoughts, concerns and to provide ongoing guidance as we move forward in redesigning the college under the Pathways model.
  • The Guided Pathways Steering Committee, as well as the four “pillars” workgroups, contains members from every constituency group across the campus. Any individuals that want to be involved in ongoing Pathways work are encouraged to do so, and can join a Pathways work group at any time.  Please contact Alex Casareno, Dana Wassmer, or Tiffany Clark if you want to be involved. 

Why Pathways?

  • Pathways reduce excess units and uncertainty about the requirements for completion.
  • Students are at a lesser risk of dropping out of classes, feeling unsupported, and not knowing where they should be going, how to get there or where to get help.
  • Pathways mean community, confidence, and a conduit to the future for our students. 

What exactly does Pathways mean for CRC? Can you give some key points?

  • Pathways means transforming the entire institution, rather than making changes in selected areas of the students’ paths to completion. 
  • Reducing barriers to student success at some significant “choke points” – looking at each step on the steps to success and using our collective knowledge in all areas (counseling, basic skills, program specific disciplines, support services) to reimagine our system together.
  • Creating flexible solutions that fit students with different needs and that fit our college and its many subcultures, as well as the college culture as a whole.
  • Adopting and adapting to new technology in ways that students will actually use, rather than in ways that we have become comfortable.
  • Pathways means making our college ready for the students, rather than the students ready for college.
  • Changes in the laws, regulations, and state procedures that are focused on improving student transitions on the pathway to completion; these may set aside some constituency group interests while supporting others.

What impact has this had on student success at colleges where this program is already in place?

Referencing the words of Rob Johnstone, Director of CGPP (restating what was quoted above):

“So first of all, the evidence for guided pathways reform is still emerging, as very few colleges have had enough time engaging in scaled deep reform for us to have great data on the results.  We do have exemplars from early adopters of guided pathways in places like Georgia State University (improved graduation rate from 31% to 57%) and Florida State (15-point increase), and emerging evidence in the CC space at CBD colleges like Miami Dade, Davidson (NC) and Sinclair (Oh) is also promising.  But to be clear, we don't have as solid a research base as we will in a few years when more colleges (such as the 30 colleges in the national AACC cohort on which this CA initiative is modeled) have had the chance to make such changes.”

Useful information about Guided Pathways can be found in the document “What We Know about Guided Pathways” (PDF). The CUNY Community College examples (explained in the research overview) are part of the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs model of guided pathways. This model of guided pathways informed CRC’s BSSOT grant.                                                                     

From “What We Know About Guided Pathways”:

A growing number of colleges and universities are implementing guided pathways reforms. Descriptive evidence from these institutions suggests that more coherent and clearly structured pathways are helping improve student outcomes.

Florida State University In the early 2000s, to address the problem of students graduating with excess credits, Florida State University implemented default academic program maps, required students to enroll in exploratory majors, and provided proactive advising to help ensure that students stay on path. Between 2000 and 2009, the year-to-year retention rate for first-time-in-college freshman increased from 86 to 92 percent, the four-year graduation rate increased from 44 to 61 percent and the percentage of students graduating with excess credits dropped from 30 to 5 percent.

Guttman Community College, CUNY At Guttman, a new CUNY college designed around guided pathways principles, all first-time students are required to attend a summer bridge program, to enroll full-time, and to follow a common first-year curriculum intended to help them explore careers and choose a major. Remedial instruction is embedded into college-credit coursework. In their second year, students are required to choose a program of study in a limited number of fields identified as promising based on New York City labor market data. By August 2014, 28 percent of Guttman’s inaugural 2012 entering class had completed an associate degree, and the college reported that it is on track to meet its three-year goal of graduating 35 percent of its students.  In contrast, the median three-year graduation rate for community colleges in large cities is 13 percent.

Queensborough Community College, CUNY In 2009, Queensborough Community College began requiring all first-time, full-time students to choose one of five “freshman academies” in business; visual and performing arts; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; health-related science; or liberal arts before they enrolled. Each academy has a faculty coordinator who works with faculty and student affairs staff to implement high-impact practices and build a sense of community among students and faculty within the academy. Since implementation, first-year retention rates at the college have increased, 20 and the college’s three-year graduation rate rose from 12 percent for the 2006 first-time, full-time cohort to 16 percent for the 2009 cohort. 

What are the advantages that the California Guided Pathways Project (CGPP) has towards the goal of achieving student success & our collective work here at CRC on guided pathways, should Cosumnes River College be accepted as one of the 20 campuses.

We have applied and already been accepted to the California Guided Pathways Project and began the work during Fall of 2017.

Advantages: We asked Rob Johnstone, Director of the California Guided Pathways Project (CGPP) and Director, National Center for Inquiry and Improvement about advantages, and Rob wrote this:

“So first of all, the evidence for guided pathways reform is still emerging, as very few colleges have had enough time engaging in scaled deep reform for us to have great data on the results.  We do have exemplars from early adopters of guided pathways in places like Georgia State University (improved graduation rate from 31% to 57%) and Florida State (15-point increase), and emerging evidence in the community college space at CBD colleges like Miami Dade, Davidson (NC) and Sinclair (OH) is also promising.  But to be clear, we don't have as solid a research base as we will in a few years when more colleges (such as the 30 colleges in the national American Associate of Community Colleges (AACC) cohort on which this CA initiative is modeled) have had the chance to make such changes.”

Reviewing the AACC work and considering the work ahead as proposed by the CGPP, the other advantages are:

  • We will be part of a consortium of California Community Colleges experiencing similar issues concerning success and enrollment, etc.  A collaborative response can assist us with resources for implementation, mistakes that we may avoid, successes that we can emulate, just to name a few.
  • As part of the consortium, we will have consultants/experts to rely upon, to query, and to assist us towards our purpose of helping our students achieve their education/career goals. In doing so, we will improve our student success and completion rates.
  • The $45,000 to join the consortium will come from the IEPI fund and up to $48,000 for our team’s travel expenses will be covered by the Project. Since the funding is coming from external sources, we can focus our own resources on improving student success.


Without the CGPP, we will need to use our own funds to conduct research, create our own resources and method(s) of implementation, and to evaluate effectiveness.  This may delay our ability to help our students and prolong our current issues with enrollment and student completion.  We may see lower enrollment as students struggle to navigate and drop out or transfer to other colleges that offer guided pathways.  By joining the CGPP, we may learn from other colleges with similar programs and help us expedite this process.   

This Project comes with a professional development focus. The better prepared we are to work with students in a new model like this, the better served our students will be.

For any guided pathway to work efficiently and effectively, the Academic Senate, faculty, and classified professionals are critical to its success. Efforts will be made to involve faculty, staff, and students at every stage.  Faculty and Academic Senate will be engaged in topics pertaining to faculty purview, including but not limited to:

  • Curriculum, student preparation, and support;
  • Educational program development;
  • Degree & certificate requirements;
  • Faculty professional development.
  • Faculty from all disciplines/programs need to be engaged in the planning and implementation.

What risks or disadvantages, if any, will the program [have] towards the goal of achieving or increasing student success?


  • We may agree to implement a model that might make people (administrators, faculty, and staff) uncomfortable. Given that risk, at least two questions come to mind:
    • Would we be able to overcome that discomfort in what is the best interest for our students?
    • How would we come together to design a model that will mitigate discomfort from the beginning?

We believe that with deliberate dialogue and profound engagement with everyone involved, we can minimize the discomfort and implement a model that we can all feel proud of.

  • We can implement a model too quickly without the infrastructure in place to accommodate the changes, to accommodate staff and faculty needs, and to accommodate the administrative actions that might have to happen. 
    • Again, the benefit of joining the CGPP is that we can anticipate the infrastructure needed so we can approach this in a systematic and realistic pace.
  • We can implement a model that does not work. However, with failure comes the opportunity for improvement. We anticipate some challenges (technology, student orientation, aligning student services, etc.), but we hope to minimize them with the assistance from the CGPP.

The model of guided pathways is a change for us, so we respect the need to be realistic and consider all aspects so that we can design and implement the best model for our students and College.  Considering this, there are other risks that come to mind if we do nothing:  

  • We can continue with our low outcome success. 8.4% graduation/degree success rate (in 4 years) is not good and will not attract more students to attend CRC or to persist in our programs. 
  • We can continue to produce a class schedule that does not manage enrollment to benefit our students – a guided pathway helps us create a more predictable class schedule that focuses on the students and what they need.
  • Students continue to spend money for an education but do not reach (or know how to achieve) their academic/career goal. 

In response to the issue of risks, Rob Johnstone wrote this:

“I will say that what we do have is 30 years of evidence of what happens when we do things the same way we've always done them - call it the cafeteria model if you will; this largely has produced completion/transfer rates in the 35-40% range nationally, with incredible stability in the numbers over time.  The California success rate as determined on the Scorecard tends to be slightly higher, but this is mainly a vagrancy of how the number is calculated - when using the nationally recognized methods, CA colleges are roughly the same as the national average.

The reason this is important is that it causes us to ask the question "why would we expect different results if we know what happens when we do things the same way?"  There's a reference to the definition of insanity somewhere in here, but the bottom line is that based on behavioral economics, social and organizational psychology, and early adopters we have good reason to believe that intentional, scaled long term efforts to implement guided pathways reforms will produce significant improvements in outcomes for the very students our faculty care about deeply.  And that's what this is all about - improving outcomes and the lives of our students.

In terms of the concerns of specific faculty in the humanities (or social sciences) about their courses being de-emphasized in guided pathways, I, Davis Jenkins, Kay McClenney and others, strongly feel that this does not need to be an outcome of guided pathways reform.   If the courses you offer are on transfer pathways already - that is they currently help students gain junior standing in a major after they transfer - there's no reason that they shouldn't be emphasized/included on the recommended pathways you create during faculty-led mapping of the programs.  

You might send a reference to a paper I wrote examining 10 commonly asked guided pathways questions - including one called Guided Pathways Demystified. One thing I raise in the paper is the observation that students take the same number of humanities and social science courses after guided pathways reform as they do currently - we must arrange them into a recommended set of electives for each program.  It's also important to remember that these recommended maps for each program are recommendations; each student has the option to replace a given general education requirement with another course that satisfies the requirement...”

Faculty are encouraged to read the Guided Pathways Demystified paper.  In that paper, Johnstone addresses these questions:

Concerns about compromising our higher education values: 

  1. Isn’t college a meritocracy where the strong and smart succeed, and the weak, underprepared, or unmotivated don’t?
  2. Isn’t free choice the cornerstone of American higher education?
  3. Won’t we sacrifice quality when we move to the guided pathways?
  4. Won’t we lose the heart of a liberal arts education when we make students’ journeys more structured?

Practical considerations about control and enrollment:

  1. Won’t faculty lose control over what is taught in their discipline?
  2. Won’t we lose enrollment at our college if we decrease swirl with increased structure—or by making things mandatory?

Apprehensions about the impact on students’ learning and development:

  1. Isn’t all of this “hand-holding” going to create graduates that can’t navigate the workplace and the “real world”?
  2. Don’t students benefit when they “find themselves” by what looks like wandering to the observer?
  3. How can students be expected to make career decisions at age 18 or 19?
  4. Don’t students change careers four to seven times?  Given this context, why would we put them on structured pathways?

The frank discussion of the questions explains that guided pathways are certainly worth the effort for our students.

In addition, part of our plan with the guided pathways is to address the students who are unsure about which pathway to pursue.  Many students may not know they want to be medical assistants (or are even aware of such a program) but they may know they want to go into the health field.  We will create broad Area of Study pathways (in Allied Health, STEM, Fine Arts, etc.) to allow a student to learn about the potential pathways in a particular area.  Within a set time (or a number of units earned), the student will be prodded to select a pathway that best suite his/her interest and potential. 

What Guided Pathways is NOT…

  • Guided Pathways is not curriculum reform, but does focus on how we sequence and schedule courses. We may find in looking closely at our programs that some curriculum review is warranted.
  • Guided Pathways DOES NOT limit student choices but rather provides clear, structured experiences and advice for students to make informed choices.
  • Guided Pathways is NOT a vehicle to eliminate programs and to reduce GE options, but rather enables students to better understand:
    • Which program to choose and how to move through that program, and
    • Which GE courses fit with their program of study or interest and count toward their goal.

What is a meta-major? (Also known as “career academic clusters” or “houses”)

  • Meta-majors are collections of academic majors that have related courses and outcomes.
  • They also include groups of degrees & certificates that are considered similar from a student’s perspective. In most cases, students will still declare a major in a specific discipline or department.
  • With meta-majors, there is no guesswork for the students concerning which courses will be applicable to their major.
  • Meta-majors can guide the students on a path to completion and to help them make the connection between their studies and different career opportunities.

Will the new meta-majors dissolve the current divisions on campus?

Along with other elements of Guided Pathways, meta-majors will help break down the present silos on campus by fostering cross-program collaboration. The instructional divisions on campus may eventually reflect our college’s organization into meta-majors.

Who do students talk to, to clarify their meta-major path?

The Student Experience Lifecycle (SEL) software would have a robust interest intake to identify the student’s interest as well as some of their aptitudes. This will help steer the student to a specific meta-major. Ideally, the student will meet with a counselor and/or discipline-specific instructional faculty academic advisor who will help support this process. The student will have a choice as to which meta-major they go into, but their choice will be guided by the SEL assessment. The current draft plan is that the students will attend (F2F or on-site) orientation for their specific meta-major and become more aware of the majors, job prospects, transfer information, student services, etc.  In addition, the student will meet other new students in the meta-major and a cohort will form.

Who will decide placement of disciplines in "meta-majors?" In particular, how will it be decided where interdisciplinary programs go? How will whoever is making the decisions about disciplinary placement in meta-majors know where to put fields of study

Meta-majors are clusters of academic programs, and by definition fall into the category of professional and academic matters of the Academic Senate. A draft of meta-majors was developed by the Clarifying the Path Work Group with faculty leadership and was introduced to the Academic Senate in early Spring 2018. The draft meta-majors have also been available for review on the CRC Guided Pathways website for review by the community. The Academic Senate reviewed the proposed meta-majors and has made a few recommendations for change. The second reading on the meta-majors will occur in a coming meeting. 

Meta-majors differ from the current academic divisional structure at CRC in two key ways:

  • Divisions are college structures designed to house programs for the purpose of administration.
  • Meta-majors are clusters of majors with some commonalities and are designed to help students find identify a major, receive student support, and build a connection to the college.

As the discussion of meta-majors continues, instructional faculty will want to consider where their programs would best align into one of the proposed meta-majors that will best serve our students. Prior to the Academic Senate's decision on meta-majors, the entire campus will have input into meta-majors through a survey that will ask individuals to provide their views on the possible alignment of academic programs into meta-majors.

What is the difference between the Student Ed Plan (SEP) and template?

  • A template, which is produced by a college-wide process, suggests a sequence of courses that generally serve a student’s best interests as they complete a program of study. A template specifies both the courses a student must take to satisfy the core requirements of the relevant major and makes recommendations regarding the best way to satisfy GE requirements. It serves as a starting point for developing an SEP.
  • An SEP, which is created for an individual student by a counselor, provides the list of specific courses an individual student will actually take to complete their program of study. Any given SEP may diverge from the template when such divergences are judged by the counselor to better serve the individual student’s interests.

How much coordinating and collaboration is being done with pre-existing pathways?

Where existing pathways exist, we have models of how to move forward. The pre-existing pathways will be utilized and program faculty will be asked to review/update it (if needed) and create a Program Map (of the required courses) for the degree/certificate/pathway.  Our goal is to align the Program Map with other programs and electives CRC offers so that we can synchronize and develop a predictable class schedule that will allow students to enroll in the courses they need in a timely manner.

The CGPP will also help us integrate the work that is being done with Basic Skills and Student Outcomes Transformation Program, Student Success & Support Program (matriculation), Strong Workforce, Student Equity Plan, etc. In many ways, the success efforts already underway will support the development of our guided pathways.

Our goal is to create a guided pathway that focuses on the entire/whole student experience and not one isolated class at a time.  Student support services will be integrated into the guided pathway to enable the students to complete their program more effectively and efficiently.  In this manner, we will help close the equity gaps by providing the support/services that underserved students need to be successful. 

Where does adult education at the community college fit with respect to a GED and pathways?

The focus on student success at the community college has also informed the discussion of how adult education and community colleges can work together to serve their communities. The Adult Education Block Grant (AEBG) Program was funded with a focus on statewide regional consortiums focused on improving adult education.

Los Rios is part of the Capital Adult Education Regional Consortium (CAERC). CAERC has specific priorities, including the development of guided pathways:

  1. Build and Expand Adult Education Offerings
  2. Develop Alignment and Pathways
  3. Increase Student Support Services
  4. Enhance Data and Accountability Systems

The CAERC "Big Picture" (PDF) document provides more information.

Since 2014, CRC faculty in English, Reading, ESL, and Math have been involved with CAERC and helped develop the CAERC priorities. The CAERC priorities are consistent with the goals of the guided pathways.

Should our application be approved (for the CA Guided Pathways Project), can we opt out of the program, if that is the will of the campus?

We asked this question to Rob Johnstone. Rob wrote this:

"In terms of 'opting out', while this is theoretically possible as every college is participating in the project to try and help them meet their own goals in improving student success, we are asking for colleges to make the three year commitment to the deep work necessary to fully evolve their approaches to get the benefit in student success that we hope to foster. I think it's safe to say if during the application process we felt a college wasn't "all in" per se, that other applicants who were would be advantaged in the selection process."

What are some examples of projects we are currently working on that align with Pathways as we engage with this “transformation”?

  • Embedded Supplemental Instruction (math & English)
  • High school English curriculum alignment
  • Utilizing variations of GPA, high school transcripts in Multiple Measures Placement
  • First Year Experience as an entryway to full-time enrollment/ support services
  • Program maps (sequence of courses) for programs
  • SLO, PSLO and PrOF assessment
  • Early and frequent contact/check-in with students

I submitted a sabbatical to create a pathway between my program and one at Sacramento State. It was denied. Why bother supporting this if our administration doesn't?

Type A and Type B sabbatical decisions are faculty purview through the Professional Standards Committee. Questions regarding why a particular proposal was not awarded a sabbatical leave should be posed to the Professional Standards Committee. As the President of the College affirms sabbatical recommendations, specific questions regarding the president's focus on sabbaticals should be directed to the president. Although a focus on placing students into pathways is the first goal of the College's Strategic Plan, funding for sabbatical proposals remains the purview of the Professional Standards Committee, and college administration may not be in a position to fund individual sabbatical projects even if those projects have a guided pathways focus. In addition, sabbatical projects duplicating what the College is doing for every program might not be funded.  The overall focus of guided pathways is to improve the student experience into, through, and out of CRC.  The work of guided pathways is to redesign our College in a way that is sustainable and focused on the students' needs.

The College invites all our faculty and staff to be involved in our guided pathways work.

What is AB 705?

Here is the most frequently asked questions on AB 705 (PDF)