At Pearl River Community College (PRCC)–Mississippi’s first and oldest two-year academic institution– our top priority is to help students complete a degree or certificate program in order to advance and thrive in the career of their choosing.
We continuously evaluate how we engage with our 5,000+ students, aiming to further improve and simplify how we support degree planning and advise individuals throughout the year. Quite simply, we continuously ask ourselves: What can we do as an institution to boost student success and retention?
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One answer is the Guided Pathways approach. Coordinated by the American Association of Community Colleges, Guided Pathways is a national movement that involves redesigning the college experience to better focus on student success, creating clear maps for academic programs, helping students choose a program pathway and providing the support and resources to keep them on that path through to graduation.
We wanted to adopt the Guided Pathways education model while being strategic about which processes, organizational changes and technology would have an immediate, yet lasting, impact.
A simplified curriculum for improved student planning
Sometimes, the more courses that are available to students, the more confusion exists about which to select that in order to get the best education and still graduate on time. With this in mind, we set a plan to create mapped pathways that aligned to student goals and could help guide students who aren’t yet decided about a major or plans post-graduation.
We made a move to simplify our curriculum, streamlining course offerings into eight plans of study or meta-majors. Rather than forcing students who might not be ready to pick a major, we narrowed the options and provide a recommended path. For example, the Business Pathway includes a variety of two-year and four-year majors, such as Business Management Technology and Medical Billing and Coding, providing students with course options to prepare them for a variety of jobs–to help individuals find a career path of interest.
Student and adviser visibility into the academic journey
To help students stay on track with the Guided Pathways model, we knew we needed to strengthen our advising and degree-planning processes in tandem. For this we turned to Ellucian Degree Works, a solution that integrated with our existing Ellucian Banner student information system.
The technology helps map out the academic journey for students and advisers, providing instant visibility into exactly what courses need to be taken and when, as well as confirmation of completed courses to provide motivation that individuals are on a direct path to a degree.
A huge advantage to leveraging technology was removing the manual processes associated with course registration and degree auditing. Now we have a system to seamlessly support degree planning, progress tracking, transfer articulation and accreditation-related reporting.
For example, when a student is coded within the Banner systems as an engineering major, that information is fed directly into Degree Works, showing both students and advisers exactly what courses are required to graduate. Rather than toggling between course catalogs and transcripts, both parties can monitor progress on degree completion — providing significant time savings. Plus, incoming transfer students have clarity on exactly which credits will transfer to our institution.
We found that when our students receive the academic advice they need to succeed and our advisers can counsel students more successfully, we see increased retention and a shorter time to degree. Within the first year of implementing the technology and new curriculum, we experienced a 3.8 percent increase in full-time retention rates.
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One of the big challenges for students during the degree-planning process is associating a degree with a career. Now, our students have a plan driving them towards graduation, are much less likely to take courses they don’t need and are more likely to stay on a direct path to graduation.
Today, technology is creating new opportunities for tremendous efficiency gains, helping us guide students to more successful outcomes. This is at the heart of everything we do. For schools that want to embrace the Guided Pathways model, new technology to manage the advising and degree-planning processes is essential. It has helped us provide a clear path to graduation, real-time advice and counsel, and most importantly, improved retention and graduation rates.