Guided Pathways: Is Your Campus Stuck?

In the 2018-19 academic year, I've interacted with educators from roughly fifty community colleges. I compiled themes about why so many institutions are stuck in their Guided Pathways work. Below are themes (in no particular order) with contributing factors expressed from the field. Provided that a college can honestly reflect on its problem(s) and contributing factors, feel free to use the contact form to request a Word version of a tool I created to help colleges brainstorm how to potentially get "unstuck." I'd be happy to share it.

Guided Pathways "stuck" problems and contributing factors:

Problem: Ineffective workgroup structure with unproductive meetings
1. Specific to California, workgroups formed from the GP 14 elements. The elements didn't truly address how to plan and implement GP. The national CCRC Scale of Adoption, which infused equity, would've been a more effective tool.
2. Some campuses took a year to form their workgroups. In the process, colleges lost their "why."
3. Ineffective inquiry process. ALL data talk (which sometimes leads to student blaming) and a lack of courageous conversations about equity and how to move forward to improve services and instruction.
4. Lack of prep meetings and designated facilitators to ensure key meetings are productive. Also, lack of project management expertise in each workgroup.
5. Workgroups don't meet consistently and workgroup leads fail to meet at all as a team.
6. President is aloof and disengaged from the work. It's a difficult balance because some presidents understandably don't want to be perceived as controlling the GP work, but presidents need to know the good, the bad, and ugly and intervene when necessary to collaboratively problem-solve issues in partnership key personnel (e.g., academic senate president, classified president, key administrators and faculty) and include the student voice. Conversely, some presidents are too controlling and take punitive, rather than supportive action, when there's a bump in the road.
7. Too many vice presidents and deans are severely over-worked, often doing the work of two or three people. This situation doesn't allow them sufficient time and effort to pay attention to the inefficiencies of GP structures and meetings. In some organizations, the culture is such where these peoples' passions are taken advantage of to save a few bucks. This is essentially a tax on passion.
8. Faculty who transition to administration are not provided with tools, resources, and trainings on project management.

Problem: Instruction vs Student Services Culture
1. GP budget is under one vice president. For example, if under VPSS, VPI personnel perceive that they have no real say in planning & implementation (perceptions turn into reality) and vice versa.
2. Vice Presidents don't collaborate and therefore cause an instruction vs student services culture; exacerbated when a president takes sides or does nothing to resolve the conflict between vice presidents.

Problem: Faculty disengaged from planning & implementation
1. GP budget used to hire an administrator "in charge" of GP. If these "GP czars" (as some faculty call them) fail to exhibit genuine servant leadership, faculty disengage from the process because they feel their voices don't matter.
2. Faculty fear of course elimination. The fear is a fundamental misunderstanding of what GP is about. Campuses can create courses as a result of GP.
3. Failure to invest in one or two GP faculty coordinators to shepherd the GP planning work. When the investment is made, insufficient support is provided for GP faculty coordinators. As is often the case in education, a 50% assignment turns into a 100% role if the work is to be done effectively. This builds frustration and resentment even among the best of us.

There are two critical elements woven into the problems and factors above: how we treat one another and a lack of an external perspective.

Bullying is happening at many campuses. Somewhere along the line some people decided that perhaps the most effective way to get work done is to mistreat people (e.g., demeaning, yelling, slamming things, and threats). Sadly, some of these people weren't this way when they started in education, but perhaps because someone failed to protect them from burn out and from being bullied themselves, they turned into the very thing they hated years ago. If a campus lacks a culture of kindness and respect, any endeavor, including the structural changes that GP requires, will get stuck.

Lastly, many campuses lack an external perspective--a perspective that will provide candid and unbiased feedback, guidance that will lead to more productive use of time, and ongoing coaching to ensure the institution is always working on what I call the "Three C's": Clarity, Coherence, Consensus. Sometimes this could be a highly respected colleague from another campus who at the very least could provide candid and unbiased feedback.

If colleges fail to address GP planning and implementation problems and contributing factors, this is how GP will most likely unfold at campuses.

You don't need to be a Game of Thrones fan to get the picture.


Elephant in the Room: Instruction in Higher Education

Contact me about customized trainings or ongoing coaching support to help your campus plan and implement grants, projects, or comprehensive efforts such as guided pathways.  Use the contact form on the right (bottom of the page for mobile users).


(A. Solano)

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