This content was published: July 29, 2019. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.
Faculty and staff lead radical redesign of student support structures
Photos and Story by James Hill
Portland Community College is rethinking how it supports students.
The PCC initiative Yes to Equitable Student Success (YESS) is strengthening student success by creating a robust Guided Pathways model as prescribed the national Achieving the Dream project, which involves hundreds of colleges nationwide.
The idea behind this model is that students are more likely to complete a credential or transfer to a four-year institution if they have a clear roadmap of what courses they need to take, as well as receive support along the way to ensure they remain on track. Colleges that have adopted Guided Pathways report that their students are completing degrees faster and taking on more courses, according to the Community College Research Center.
PCC is focused on building a foundation for Guided Pathways and nesting its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within this process. The college is increasing data and technology capacity as part of this effort, and implementing a strategic enrollment management platform to monitor success.
“We have a lot teams working tirelessly,” said Heather Lang, interim vice president of Student Affairs. “They are the ones engaged in a focused way. They are designing our strategies and mapping our pathways to achieve goals set out under our priorities.”
According to Lang, there are more than 20 teams across the college engaged with the development of YESS. Hundreds of hours have been tallied, focused on strategic planning for YESS, presentations to the college community, and training and development for key stakeholders. The goal is to implement PCC’s Guided Pathways by June of 2020.
What is YESS?
- As at many community colleges across the country, after three years enrolled at PCC students can find themselves struggling to complete their academic goals. Some finish on time, earning their degrees or certificates, but many more transfer to other institutions without having obtained their credentials, or drop out. Data indicates that students who leave college without credentials is disproportionately higher for those from underrepresented communities.
- But the Yes to Equitable Student Success (YESS) Initiative at PCC is changing these statistics. By instituting Guided Pathways, advisors and faculty work together to track students’ academic journey in real time so they have the support they need to complete their credential. By adding data and technology, incorporating equity and inclusion practices, and establishing a holistic student enrollment management plan, students will have the tools they need to succeed.
Instructors Jamee Kristen (sociology) and Chris Brooks (history) lead the guided pathways team. Last year, the team facilitated curriculum mapping in order to identify gaps and improve the overall coherence of PCC’s areas of study. This means connecting what faculty teach to what is required by areas of study, and assessing how advisors support students and instructors.
Another team is redesigning the general education program, or core classes students must take to earn their certificate or degree.
Before this process started, PCC could gauge outcomes for students only by completion numbers (number of degrees or certificates). Establishing Guided Pathways allows students to be more strategic as they work on their academic and career goals.
“We can more easily track student achievement and can provide students with a clearer understanding of why they are taking a class, how they’ll be assessed and how their class fits in with their academic and career objectives,” Brooks said.
Advisors will be able to track student progress in a meaningful way by intervening quickly if something goes wrong, saving students money and time.
“Faculty and advisors are in close contact and instead of waiting for students to initiate, are proactively reaching out to them,” Kristen said. “There is a cultural shift happening. It’s really about being fully student centered. Students are why we are here and are who we serve.”
In YESS’ advising redesign project, staff have put in more than 1,700 hours of labor. As a result, new students have been participating in a revamped on-boarding process since the summer. Staff also are planning to pilot an early alert system and assign advisors to students beginning this fall.
“The reality is that students who don’t have clear academic or career goals are likely to take extra courses in our current system,” said Jason Pinkal, manager of Advising & Placement Support. “This means extra time, extra tuition, or leaving PCC without a degree or certificate. Guided Pathways will provide students with clear academic plans and necessary support resources to help them get, and stay, on track.”