Episode 1

Colleges highlight their pathway navigation improvement efforts

With the understanding that all 10 colleges are in early stages of planning and implementing Guided Pathways through the Strong Workforce Program (SWP) initiative, staff from San Diego Mesa College, Southwestern College, and Grossmont College agreed to generously share with their colleagues stories of the practices they are piloting at their campuses and the lessons learned thus far.

Identifying the Focus on Student Experiences when “Entering the Path”

The Consortium moves forward its SWP implementation efforts through its SWP workgroups¹, each of which makes decisions about planning and promising practices related to a specific aspect of SWP.

The Pathway Navigation workgroup is focused on improving and refining the practices concerning student onboarding — the early phase of the college experience once a student decides to enroll. At the start of their work, the Pathway Navigation workgroup wanted to understand how students navigate their way through the enrollment, planning, and course selection processes. For example: Why do students enroll but don’t register for courses? What informs or impacts students’ course selections? How do students learn about career options and how to create an education plan to meet their goals? What do students do when they need help?

To answer these questions, the workgroup gathered information by examining research from the field on college onboarding processes and conducting student focus groups, which yielded important discoveries:

  • Students are not aware of available services on campus, and colleges don’t know which specific services their students need.
  • Students need orientation information delivered in multiple ways.
  • Students don’t know what steps to take to explore their interests and career options, nor how to build an education plan informed by those interests.

With their compiled and relevant information, the workgroup identified three research-based practices — all aligned with the Guided Pathways principles of the “Entering the Path” stage — that are critical to putting students on the right path at the start of their community college journey: Comprehensive Intake, Differentiated Orientation, and Career Planning Before Education Planning.

The implementation of these practices is an indication of colleges shifting their approach to how they serve students. No longer waiting for students to come to them for help, colleges are now proactively seeking information about the kinds of support that students need to be successful, and are reaching out to connect students to those supports or programs (e.g., guidance for first-year students, veteran services, refugee assistance, English learner support) that would best help them navigate their personalized journey to completion.

Three Onboarding Practices in Action

The first stages of Pathway Navigation work are underway as the colleges plan, implement, and test new or refined onboarding processes and systems at their campuses. With each college at varying states of readiness — some further along than others — it’s an opportune time to highlight the early progress and share lessons learned. The start of the Pathway Navigation community of practice (CoP) fostered this collaborative approach to learning.

At the first Pathway Navigation CoP learning session held in February 2019, 80 participants from across the 10 colleges came together to learn from one another, exchanging experiences of onboarding implementation, while leveraging the collective knowledge of this community. One part of the meeting included a panel of San Diego and Imperial Counties community college representatives sharing their progress on a specific onboarding practice.

An agenda of the all-day meeting can be accessed here.

Learn more how three onboarding practices — Comprehensive Intake, Differentiated Onboarding, and Career Planning before Education Planning — are currently unfolding at three colleges in the region through vignettes, video clips, and webinars.

As you read about and hear from your colleagues at other colleges, reflect on how these practices and lessons learned might apply to your efforts. Use the reflection guide to organize your thoughts, identify action steps, and plan follow-up activities.

Comprehensive Intake at San Diego Mesa College
In an effort to create a more comprehensive intake process, San Diego Mesa College recently developed “Your Mesa Journey,” an online intake survey that both gathers critical student data and uses that data to recommend relevant student service programs to incoming students. To inform the design and functionality of this online process, a cross-sectional team of… (Read more here.)

Differentiated Orientation at Southwestern College
While Southwestern College has had success leveraging its orientation offerings to guide recent high school graduates through the registration process and program discovery, it has faced a substantial and persistent gap between the number of students who enroll and the number of students who register for classes in its overall population. To address this issue, the college has… (Read more here.)

Career Planning at Grossmont College
Grossmont College currently hosts a slew of initiatives to help students engage in the career exploration process at the very start of their postsecondary education, or to “think with the end in mind.” As they begin working to assess and refine these offerings, Grossmont seeks to emphasize… (Read more here.)

Key resources from the SWP Resources Library

Find background research, tools, and promising practices on these onboarding topics in the resource library.

  1. SWP Workgroups

    Each SWP Workgroup includes a mixed representation of roles, involving more than 150 stakeholders from across the 10 colleges, along with K–12, adult education, and industry partners. Each workgroup is focused on a specific component of SWP implementation:

    • Career Pathways
    • Middle and High School Engagement
    • Pathway Navigation
    • Work-Based Learning and Job Placement
    • Retention, Success, and Support
    • Employer Engagement


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