Redesigning The Student Experience — Guided Pathways At Scale
Santa Monica College is a high-quality institution with exceptional faculty, staff,
and programs. For the 27th consecutive year, we have topped the list in the number
of students transferring to the University of California (UC) system as well as in
the number of Black and Latina/o/x students transferring to the UC system. Additionally,
we rank 2nd in the total number of combined transfers to the California State University
(CSU) and the UC systems. We also offer industry-driven “Career Education” programs
which are responsive to local and state-wide economic trends and needs. For example,
Promo Pathways—built on the tenets of diversity and inclusion--is the nation’s first
accredited on-air promotions training program. In addition, SMC is highly ranked compared
to all community colleges nationally, as well as the CSU, in the pass rate for its
students taking the CPA exam. Similarly, our Cosmetology program has one of the highest
student pass rates on the State Board exam. SMC also developed a baccalaureate degree
program in Interaction Design, and we will graduate our first cohort this year.
While these successes are laudable, equally important is the fact that most of our students are not achieving their self-defined goals.
Fewer than 20% of SMC’s first-time-in-college fall entrants earn a degree, a certificate,
or transfer to a 4-year institution within three years, even though that is the stated
goal of 88% of that cohort. Moreover, the rates of Black students (11%) and Latina/o/x
students (12%) achieving those goals are only 1/3 the rate of White students (33%).
Of the roughly 4400 first-time-in-college students (excluding international students)
in a given fall cohort whose goal is either transfer, a degree, or a certificate,
over 45% of the cohort has stopped attending any institution of higher education after
three years without having earned a degree or certificate on their transcript. These
stopping/dropping out data reveal significant disparities based on students’ racial/ethnic
identification. Disproportionately more Black students (59%) and Latina/o/x students
(47%) exit higher education without a credential or transferring than White students
(39%) and Asian students (39%).
These troubling outcomes have been consistent over time and across most institutions, both nationally and in California. This does not, however, make them any more palatable. Instead, the consistency of these outcomes indicates to us that it is our colleges, themselves, which must be redesigned if we seek to generate stronger and more equitable outcomes. In essence, we must serve the students as they arrive at our door and facilitate their success in a much more intentional and systematic manner. Most of our first-time-in-college students come to us underprepared for the social, academic, and personal requirements for success in college; we are, after all, an open access institution. This open access is precisely what makes our community colleges so valuable and important, particularly for underserved and disadvantaged populations. To serve those populations, we have created a myriad of services and programs—many of which have been quite successful. But because of how these services and programs are structured, we often serve only a small proportion of our students, and they are largely self-selected, motivated students. In order for SMC to “move the needle” in a meaningful way on both student success and racial/ethnic equity, we need to build on the achievements of those programs and provide those services to all our students, essentially making the college’s support network both proactive toward and unavoidable for all students. In sum, we seek to significantly reduce—in fact, eliminate—the number of students who “fall through the cracks.” We seek to redesign the student experience so that the college will become a “facilitator” of student success rather than the “gatekeeper” it is currently.
Utilizing what has come to be labeled a “guided pathways framework,” we seek to intentionally and at scale build SMC’s structures and programs to improve and achieve equity in the rates of college completion, transfer, and attainment of jobs with value in the labor market. This requires large-scale transformational changes to our current practices:
- We must make the academic, transfer, and career paths for students more understandable and transparent so that students can make informed decisions related to their college journey.
- To help students gain momentum early in their journey, we must offer systematic guidance to all students in selecting career goals and an area of study aligned with those goals while also providing contextualized and embedded academic support in critical or “gateway” courses within those areas of study.
- Building on that momentum, we must provide intentional and proactive support toward course success and goal completion including targeted academic counseling as well as tools for students to easily track their own progress and recognize the impact of entry and exit points along their academic journey.
- We must also intentionally and systematically build the skills of critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration in part by offering tangible, applied, collaborative learning experiences, so that student engagement becomes inescapable for all students.
Our hope is that through this redesign of the student experience, SMC paves the way for all open access institutions in California (and the nation) to equitably serve all our students and ensure that a student’s pre-college preparation or life circumstances does not predetermine the student’s outcome in college. SMC’s redesign of the student experience seeks to eliminate the equity gaps, reduce time to completion, and increase the rates of completion, while maintaining our high standards and high quality.