SAGE Musings: Institutional Change at Two-Year Colleges

Pamela Eddy, College of William and Mary
Author Profile
published Feb 6, 2017

Change is the watchword of the day in higher education as public demands for accountability of student outcomes increase, concerns over the cost of a college education are at the forefront, and businesses are clamoring for qualified employees. Community colleges are at the center of these national conversations as a key leveraging point to help increase college graduations, and due to their low costs. Yet, the historically low graduation rates at community colleges are a barrier to the large scale demands now envisioned for the sector. As a society, the credential of a college degree still holds sway as a measure of student success.

As a result of the attention on community college graduation rates, many programs and initiatives are underway on community college campuses and across the country. The role of institutional context influences both how state and national programs are operationalized on campus and what the campus can do in response to pressures for improvements and change. Below are the outlines of three national/state policies and programs that affect what happens on your campus and shapes your work, whether you are aware of it or not. As you learn more about each of these programs, keep thinking about what influence they have on your campus, your own work, and your students. Knowing the lingo of larger campus, state, and national initiatives gives you an insider view of how the pieces fit together.

Guided Pathways: The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has supported Guided Pathways as a mechanism to improve student success, which is typically measured by graduation rates ( The idea of this project is that students need support along the way to graduation and that too much choice slows down, or derails, student progress. Four-year colleges provide different kinds of scaffolding for students through residential programming, freshman advisors, student affairs support staff, and student policies that require declaring a major in the second year. Given the open access of 2YCs, it is much easier for students to fall through the cracks. Guided Pathways serve as an antidote to the leaky pipeline of student drop-out in community colleges. Tom Bailey, Shana Smith Jaggars, and Davis Jenkins of the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teacher's college are the researchers most associated with guided pathways. In addition to a CCRC webpage devoted to the topic (, the researchers have out a book titled Redesigning America's Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success, that many college leaders are using to guide change on campus. A central element of guided pathways is the creation of Meta Majors. Meta Majors create larger umbrella programs, like health professions, workforce, etc., in which course work could be applied to a range of degree programs. The idea here is that students would not be taking courses that do not count for a degree ( The Guided Pathways initiative is well-aligned with SAGE 2YC's project goals of supporting the academic success of all students and facilitating students' professional pathways in the geosciences. Course alignment within degree programs becomes critical, especially for those geoscience courses that are considered applicable to a large range of ultimate majors.

Loss Momentum Framework: Completing the notion of a guided pathway is the Completion by Design association work for the Loss Momentum Framework. This framework targets four areas of focus to help with student success: Connection, Entry, Progress, and Completion ( Campuses in Virginia, for example, had leadership teams participate in a year-long Student Success Leadership Institute in 2015-16 and an outcome of this work was the creation of college action plans to address each of the stages of the Loss Momentum Framework. Popular among leaders is the use of secret shoppers to "see" what a student experience would be like when engaging with the campus. Central to the SAGE 2YC project are the points of entry, progress, and completion. How do students learn about your program? How are students progressing through the geoscience coursework to completion?

Performance Based Funding: A total of 33 states have some form of Performance Based Funding in place, including Florida, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin ( Funding for the college is based in part on meeting metrics and targets set by the state. Here, typical measures of performance are student enrollment, retention, graduation, passing developmental math, etc. A new book argues that PBF has failed to result in improved student outcomes ( In other words, tying funding to student success doesn't guarantee student success. However, the impetus for PBF is simple: state lawmakers want to see that the money they allocate to higher education produces educated citizens. In this, their goals and those of the SAGE 2YC are much the same—a focus on student success.

When you talk to an administrator at your institution, he or she is thinking about how the SAGE 2YC project – or anything else you propose – fits into the context of the other initiatives at your institution. You may also find that administrators are asking you and your colleagues to do curriculum changes, to report out on student success, and to offer support for students as part of these larger initiatives. The better you understand your institutional context, the better positioned you will be to secure administrative support for your work.

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