Time for a Redesign: Pathways for Student Success

By Dennis Pierce

How Broward College, in Florida, redesigned its course structure to put students on a path to transfer or a career.

As one of the largest community colleges in the country, with 67,000 students annually pursuing more than 100 degrees and certificates, Florida’s Broward College understands how easy it can be for students to feel “barraged” with so many choices, says Joyce Walsh-Portillo, associate vice president of academic affairs.

To help, Broward College has redesigned its course structure and catalog to put students on clear pathways to a four-year degree or a career.

“We don’t want students to get to the point where they feel so overwhelmed that they stop,” she explains.

Broward College has teamed up with two local universities, Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University, to develop structured pathways that allow students to transfer seamlessly into a bachelor’s degree program after earning an associate degree.

Eighty percent of Broward College students who aspire to a four-year degree go on to attend one of these two universities, Walsh-Portillo says.

Beyond four-year pathways

What’s more, the college has restructured its career and technical education programs into clear pathways as well. All certification programs are designed to fit into a progression toward an Associate of Applied Science degree or beyond.

“We want to be sure we get students as credentialed as possible,” Walsh-Portillo says, so they will have more options when they complete a career-based program.

Broward College’s work in developing structured pathways for student success was prompted by a 2013 state law that created eight career pathways, or meta-majors, to support college completion. The law requires community college students to declare a meta-major within their first 30 credit hours, so they don’t take courses that do not lead directly to a degree or certificate.

Broward College has color-coded its course catalog to make it easy for students to see which courses apply to each pathway. In addition, the faculty and the deans for each department have developed an initial sequence of courses that students should take for the first 15 to 18 credit hours of each pathway, to ensure that students begin on a clear road to success.

Designing a career plan

Many students enroll without having a career plan in mind. To help these students identify an appropriate pathway as quickly as possible, Broward College career centers offer a number of resources, such as career coaches and self-assessment tools that help students narrow their choices, based on interests and experiences.

“We work with students to find out what their goals are, and then we help them design a plan that will get them there,” Walsh-Portillo says.

At a college the size of Broward, this can be a challenge, she acknowledges: There are about 900 students for every career counselor. “We make sure every student attends an advisory session during their first semester, and that they walk away with some information in hand to guide them,” she says.

Following a national trend

Broward College’s work to develop structured pathways that lead to student success follows a national trend. Earlier this year, AACC announced the Pathways Project to help community colleges implement a fully scaled pathway model at their own institutions.

Broward College is only in the first semester of its new approach, but college leaders hope it will make a big difference for all stakeholders, Walsh-Portillo says.

“For students, it will cut down on the amount of noise they’re exposed to,” she says, which will allow them to quickly home in on what they need. For the college, “it will allow us to be much more efficient with our resources.” And taxpayers should see a better return on their investment as well.

“We will have students who will be much better prepared and who will be finishing their degrees” as a result of this approach, she says.

Walsh-Portillo shares some advice for other colleges that are working to create structured pathways: “Identify champions from all areas of the college — faculty, administrators and advisers who are enthusiastic leaders — to help guide the process. Their commitment becomes contagious.”

Dennis Pierce

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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