student success

Drawing a map to success

By Carolyn Bortz

A Pennsylvania college makes progress with Guided Pathways. 

Two years ago, Northampton Community College (NCC) made a strategic decision to implement Guided Pathways as one of several student success initiatives.  The national Pathways project drew our attention and the compelling early results supported our decision.  We developed a comprehensive multi-year implementation plan aimed at institutional reform to improve our systems and approaches to students to support their successful onboarding, identification of a program of study, persistence to credential completion and achievement of learning outcomes.

During year one (2016-17), the college community learned about the Guided Pathways model from national experts and explored how to adapt the model to NCC. Through a series of cross-divisional collaborative meetings, the faculty and staff helped to organize our academic programs into eight areas of study (a.k.a. “meta-majors”).  These areas of study aggregate academic programs of similar types together to provide students a way to explore programs based on career similarities.

A Guided Pathways Core Team was created in that year as well to provide a way to guide our implementation process and give stakeholders from all areas opportunities to participate in the decision-making.  That group has 35 members and is led by Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Bearce.  The Core Team includes sub-committees such as Marketing & Communications, Technology, General Studies, Advising Redesign and First Year Experience.  The team meets bi-weekly to keep the variety of initiatives moving forward and to report out to the group on progress to date.

During 2017-18, significant progress has been made in many Guided Pathways initiatives. The model for academic advising has been redesigned, aimed at providing an advisor for every student. The model includes hiring up to 20 student success navigators who will provide proactive, personalized support for students. The faculty in all program areas devised program maps designed to provide students with specific “directions” on how to progress through their program of study. These include important information on academic milestones, prerequisite information and course availability.  Our marketing and communications group created the microsite Student Success GPS for our website to serve as a student-facing tool to help students explore their academic and career interests and see what NCC has to offer them.

As we move forward into 2018-19, we look forward to launching our First Year Experience, implementing our advising redesign and refining our work on program maps and areas of study.

Carolyn Bortz

is vice president of academic affairs at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.