Having been involved in higher education for more than three decades, it’s interesting to reflect on how trends have changed…and once in a while something old is even new again! It wasn’t too many years ago the trend was to offer students as many options as possible, allowing them to choose from among a plethora of degree programs, some with very little distinction between them – a full array of separate, but often quite similar, programs. What was also trending at the time was complete flexibility in how a student chose to piece together his/her schedule of classes in working toward degree completion. Gone were the days prior where our technical programs were very rigid in their structure with distinct blocks of courses to be taken each term, there were no electives, and they were scheduled in a way that a full cohort of students pretty much progressed through together, in almost lock step, from start to finish.
Over time conditions change, students’ needs change, the economy changes, organizational goals change – pretty much everything changes. New trends (or maybe recycled ones) emerge.
The latest trend that I’m seeing, largely in response to the completion agenda (getting our students to graduation) is something being referred to as “guided pathways.” This represents a shift away from allowing students to piece together their own educational path, replacing the “cafeteria college” of perhaps too many choices with more structure and guidance. Sometimes I think we offer students so many choices even within the same disciplines that it can be both confusing and overwhelming.
When I think of “guided pathways” I think of building blocks…certificates that build toward a technical diploma, then further builds toward an associate in applied science degree and so on. It’s a progression of learning that results in various credentials being earned along the way. Tightening up our options in this way, along with some good structured plans for students’ ability to reasonably progress in their programs part-time or full-time, day or night makes perfect sense to me.
Do you see “guided pathways” as the right balance between very structured program plans and programs that students independently piece together to create very unique schedules? And do you think this emerging trend will be helpful in supporting degree completion?