Pathways Project: Cleveland State Seeks Better Student Engagement

By Dennis Pierce

How community colleges chosen to participate in the Pathways Project plan to develop fully scalable pathways to a career or a four-year college.

Editor’s Note: As part of a series of profiles focusing on Pathways Project participants, the following is a look at how Cleveland State Community College, in Tennessee, approaches the challenge of leading students to a career or a four-year college.

Cleveland State Community College President Bill Seymour sees his college’s work in building structured pathways to completion as part of a major shift in philosophy that has occurred over the past five years.

“Before this work started, the approach was to be pretty hands-off and not put many roadblocks up for students, to get out of their way and let them do their own thing,” he says.

“Now, we are much more focused on engagement. If we’re going to be serious about completion, then it makes sense that we would do everything possible to help our students succeed.”

A 2010 state law called the College Completion Act laid the groundwork for Tennessee colleges to become “much more focused and intentional about student success,” Seymour says. The Tennessee Board of Regents began convening a series of academies to help the state’s colleges boost their completion rates, and the most recent have focused on creating Guided Pathways to Success.

It was at one of these events that Cleveland State established a plan for taking a pathways approach, which the college began implementing this year.

“We totally reconstructed how we approach our new student advisement and registration process — those first experiences that students have when they come to campus,” Seymour says. Cleveland State now offers six different pathways for advising, depending on a student’s goals: Associate of Applied Science, Associate of Science, Associate of Arts, Associate of Fine Arts, certificate programs or the Regents Online Degree Program.

Advising woven into the process

“We ask students to indicate a preference in their application, and we work with that,” he says. “Many students are still undecided when they arrive on campus, and rather than having them out there, not connected, we make sure we get them into one of those six broad pathways for advising right away.”

He adds, “We want to make sure they’re sampling things that meet their interest. We can do that within the pathways, so that in the first semester they’re taking courses that will pay dividends no matter what they decide down the road. We believe this will reduce the number of courses that are dropped, that students will be more successful in following the academic plan they create with their adviser, and that it will reduce their time to completion.”

Now, every Cleveland State student must meet face to face with an academic adviser.

“We require that they actually see an adviser and review their progress, talk about their plans and develop schedules together,” Seymour says. “Again, five years ago, students could go online and do their own thing and frankly avoid dealing with advisers. Now, we require that advising as a major part of our process.”

Cleveland State has structured many of its associate degree programs so they are part of the Tennessee Transfer Pathway (TTP) program, which guarantees graduates entry into certain college and university programs as a junior. The institution also requires all students to take a first-year course that teaches them how to be successful in college.

“We’re excited to have been chosen for the Pathways Project, because we think it will allow us to expand what we’re doing and take our engagement with students to another level,” Seymour says.

“We felt like we had a good start, but we wanted to make sure that we institutionalize this approach in the best ways possible and engage all of our faculty and staff in this work. To do that, we need to learn how to do this better. We also want to serve as a catalyst to advance these activities in our state and help our colleagues.”

Dennis Pierce

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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