Smooth pathways require faculty leadership

By Ellie Ashford

Engaging faculty in decision-making can lead to success in creating pathways.

As community colleges work on developing guided career pathways – to help students stay on track with fewer wasted credits – they’re finding faculty buy-in is crucial.

Because pathways call for streamlined curricula that might lead to the elimination of some courses, however, college leaders can overcome faculty resistance by bringing faculty into the decision-making process on course mapping and curriculum design.

“The implementation of a large transformative reform effort, like pathways, means it’s absolutely essential for faculty not only to be engaged but to play a leadership role,” says Gretchen Schmidt, executive director of the Pathways Project at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

AACC has instituted two initiatives to help colleges support faculty leadership:

  • A new Faculty Council was created last winter to advise AACC on how faculty can be involved in pathways and other initiatives.
  • The 2017 AACC Annual Convention will for the first time have a faculty track, aimed at providing professional development to faculty who seek greater involvement in pathways and other reforms – and to promote collaboration and networking with their peers.

Calming anxieties

At St. Petersburg College (SPC) in Florida, which is one of 30 community colleges selected for AACC’s Pathways Project, faculty have been deeply involved in aligning all the academic programs into 10 broad pathways, such as healthcare and business.

Each pathway has its own sequence of courses, student services, and specific milestones (such as a capstone project or internship), says Margaret Bowman, director of curriculum services. By April 2017, the college hopes to have all pathways in place in time for fall registration.

When the college started working on career pathways in 2014, Bowman says, faculty looked at every course in a particular program. For the associate degree program in business, for example, faculty listed on sticky notes every course and every prerequisite. They discussed the best way to start the program, the general competencies students need early on, how to build on those competencies and how to introduce core concepts in business administration.

Faculty then arranged their notes to come up with a list of 20 courses in sequential order.

“That was the first baseline snapshot of a pathway,” Bowman says.

After much collaborative work with faculty, she says, “they’re at the point that whenever they make a curriculum change, the first questions are, ‘What is this going to do to the pathway?’ and ‘What is it going to do to the student experience as they go through the program?’”

The decision about which electives to recommend was based on which courses would best prepare students for entry into the workforce, Bowman says.

“In the past, we told students, ‘Pick your options.’ Now, with pathways, we’re saying if you’re going for an accounting degree, these are the four recommended electives,” although students aren’t limited to those four.

Early involvement

Faculty at Jackson College in Michigan were involved in the development of pathways from the start, says Provost Rebekah Woods.

While the college is in the AACC Pathways initiative, it had already created six pathways as part of an earlier effort spearheaded by the Michigan Community College Association.

“The essential nature of pathways necessitates the early involvement of faculty in terms of their consideration of, as well as their leadership, in mapping, implementation and evaluation of this vital work,” says Jackson College President Daniel Phelan, who also chairs the AACC board of directors.

“The active engagement of faculty helps to ensure that the pathways model is hardwired into the entirety of the educational experience for students, as opposed to being perceived as the next ‘initiative’ with limited sustainable staying power,” Phelan says.

For more examples of engaging faculty in building pathways, read the full article in Community College Daily. And to discuss this topic more, head to LinkedIn.

Ellie Ashford

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.