“Coming to College Should Be Easy” Part 1


Jacob Dorsey

Community college is supposed to be a first step. CAC students are only supposed to be here for their two-year Associate degree and then move on to a university or into the workforce. Unfortunately, for many students see their education path needlessly prolonged. It happened to me; it took me just over three years to graduate with my Associate of Arts. Many of my friends are on their fourth year towards their AA degree and have another year on the horizon. Most students I know had to deal with non-transferrable credits, and some of them had trouble as early as their first year because they tested into developmental education classes.

This isn’t necessarily a problem with just CAC, but with community colleges in general. Research shows that nationally, only 4 in 10 students graduate within six years. Federal government financial aid only supports students for about six years, so by the time students leave community college, they are unable to apply for financial aid for their bachelor’s degree. Since these problems are so widespread throughout the nation, reform at a large scale was introduced in the form of Guided Pathways, a national project supported by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and the Community College Research Center. More than 250 colleges have adopted the program since 2017.

CAC leadership is aware of the longtime problems that have prevented students from transferring with a junior status or just graduating, and they hope to work toward fixing these issues by using Guided Pathways. The project will help students graduate with a degree in the field they want – without wasting extra time or money – through redesigning programs and services that, as of now, don’t work very well. In the fall of 2020, CAC will implement the first stage of these Guided Pathways redesigns.

To learn more about the upcoming project I interviewed Central Arizona College President Jackie Elliott and Literary Arts and Languages Division Chair Karen Hindhede. Professor Hindhede is one of the many co-leads on the project who work with many faculty and staff members towards implementing Guided Pathways and ensuring the process is as smooth as possible. President Elliott has a more supportive role – she provides time and resources to faculty and staff, as well as the “context of the vision of what Guided Pathways will look like at Central Arizona College.”

According to President Elliott, implementing Guided Pathways “wasn’t a matter of if we are going to do this; it was a matter of when.” The school began working on the project in 2016 – around the same time President Elliott started her tenure here at CAC. “The first year was spent entirely on conversations and workshops before fully making the decision that, yes, we are going to do this. In year two we joined the AACC ‘Pathways 2.0’ project, which enabled us to have coaches in the area of Guided Pathways. Through that we have been able to take faculty and staff to these workshops where we hear from experts and other colleges and work in a cohort group.” CAC created teams to focus on particular aspects of Guided Pathways, and for the past two years over 70 faculty and staff have been working primarily on two elements: the areas of interest and the program maps.

This first team created nine “areas of interest,” which are fields of study that represent the degree programs students can pursue. The goal of these areas of interest is to have students see what programs are available to them in much simpler terms. If you are interested in math, for instance, you would be looking at the “Computer Technology, Engineering & Math” area of interest, and you can focus on the programs related to that field. Advisors will be assigned to each of the nine areas of interest. This will allow them to “become more of an expert in that area instead of being an expert in 149 different degrees and certificates,” says President Elliott. Within these nine areas of interest is the work of the second team – the “mapping” team.

The mapping team is working on creating clear “pathways” (or simply “maps”) that actually map out the classes required for each degree or program – or, as President Elliott puts it: Students will be able to see their four semesters; everything they need to take and when they need to take it, actually mapped out.” These maps are sequenced – in your first year you will take any pre-requisites you may need for future semesters. If you later change your mind and become interested in a different pathway, the maps in the same area of interest share the same classes, so you can generally switch without losing credits. Each map shows the campus where it can be completed – so many will say “All Campuses,” but for example, if you want to go into welding, it would say “Signal Peak and Aravaipa.”

Professor Hindhede says the plan is “to have the maps done and up on the CAC website by March, in time for fall registration, so any current or potential student will be able to see these maps on the website and work with an advisor to register for classes.”

There are other aspects of Guided Pathways that won’t be ready by the 2020-2021 school year. Aside from the two teams described above, CAC formed six more teams. The following teams – advising, developmental education, essential student experience, effective entry, excellence in instruction, and news and celebration – all are working on future additions to the Guided Pathways program. Even though specifics are not yet available, the future has been mostly planned out.

“There are guidelines or templates from other schools that are further along that we can follow … each year there is a kind of focus or theme,” says Professor Hindhede, but she is quick to clarify that even with those templates “sometimes it takes longer to redesign certain areas at one school versus another” and that one aspect of Guided Pathways might take longer than anticipated. President Elliott estimates that it will take faculty and staff seven years to fully implement Guided Pathways at CAC. The AACC stresses that the efficiency of Guided Pathways needs to be regularly evaluated and she agrees, noting that work on the program will definitely continue after the next seven years.

Please follow the rest of this story in the Around Campus section.