California Guided Pathways Project

Past project — Conducted January 1, 2017 - December 31, 2019

Project Description


Building Capacity for Reform at Scale in California Community Colleges

A decade of intensive focus on improving student success in community colleges has produced notable effects: a dramatic increase in awareness of the challenges and in commitment to college completion as a critical goal, a sea change in the use of data to assess and monitor student success and institutional performance, a growing body of evidence regarding effective educational practice in community colleges, and increasing numbers of institutions that are putting that knowledge into practice and demonstrating encouraging results. These promising developments can be attributed to the unprecedented efforts of a collection of philanthropies, national organizations, state systems, and institutions that have worked both collectively and individually to investigate practice, implement change, and produce results.

Recently, there has emerged a striking convergence of research and experience, as national and state-based organizations, state systems, research centers, and individual institutions have come to the shared understanding that progress in improving postsecondary outcomes and equity, while evident in some places, is too slow; that the favored solutions of the past decade, while often necessary components of change, are too small for the magnitude of the challenges community colleges face; and that typically, the changes thus far achieved have not been fundamental enough—and certainly not scaled enough—to achieve the improvements in completion of college credentials with strong labor market value, especially among low-income students and students of color.

In collaboration with AACC and national partners in the AACC Pathways Project, community college and organization leaders in California have committed to a project focused on bringing guided pathways reforms to a larger number of California community colleges, working as appropriate with their California State University (CSU) transfer institutions and with K-12 system partners. Guided pathways, a reform practice firmly based on a student-centered approach, hold great promise for dramatically increasing the number of credentials completed, and for closing the equity gap (by gender, race, and socio-economic status) for those completing.



National Partners

Key national partners in the project are Achieving the Dream, American Association of Community Colleges, The Aspen Institute, Center for Community College Student Engagement, Community College Research Center, Jobs for the Future, National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, Sova, and WestEd.

The Pathways Institute Series

The project builds a model series of six institutes, each 2.5 days in length and each engaging five-person teams of varying composition from a selected group of 20 colleges. All institutes support committed community colleges in work to design and implement clear, structured student pathways to high-quality credentials that are aligned both to CSU transfer and to jobs with value in the labor market. Designated college teams attend the six institutes during the grant years of 2017-2019, and each event focuses on a critical aspect of institutional change and pathway design/implementation; each requires advance work by the colleges; and each results in products developed by the participating college teams, including action plans and assessment of needs for technical assistance. The institute format combines discussions with experts, technical assistance, and facilitated discussion/planning sessions for college teams.

College Participation

The institute series involves, through a competitive application process, California colleges that are deemed "readiest" for pathways reforms at scale to improve college completion and equity in student outcomes. There is broad representation from across the state including geographically (Inland Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles) with relatively low educational attainment and high percentages of low-income and traditionally underrepresented students. The group reflects diversity in terms of institutional size, population density (rural and urban), and student populations. Colleges pay a college participation fee of $15,000 per year over three years, for a total of $45,000 per institution. Most on-site costs of institute participation (e.g., materials, coaching, hotel rooms, refreshment breaks, and most meals) are covered by the project budget. The college is responsible for travel expenses for a five-person team, including airfare, ground transportation, parking, and non-institute meals.

Knowledge Development

In addition to providing direct support to college teams, the project aims to build knowledge in the field that will lead to broader and better adoption of the pathways reforms. Accordingly, participating colleges will (1) collect, monitor, and report data on selected metrics depicting student connection, progress, and completion; and (2) participate in evaluation of the institute series. Participating colleges will also administer a special-focus module on guided pathways with SENSE 2018. The project partners will develop open-source resource materials for broad use by community colleges.

Achieving Scale

The project employs the Pathways Institute series developed by the national AACC Pathways Partners, with care taken to incorporate learning and improvements from the national project. The California Guided Pathways Project reflects the original intent of the national partner organizations to demonstrate success, continuously improve upon the pathways institute model and related tools, and replicate the work, with appropriate tailoring to differing contexts, in other settings. Accordingly, investment in this project supports design and implementation of guided academic and career pathways at scale—for all students—at 20 competitively selected California community colleges, while also building capacity within the state for spreading that work to much larger numbers of colleges.