August 21, 2019

College Implements Guided Pathways and More

Guided Pathways

The College of Southern Maryland has implemented Guided Pathways, academic innovations that make an impact in a big way by guiding students toward success and in meeting their goals.

“At the College of Southern Maryland, our passion is transforming lives, and our focus is on our students,” said Dr. Maureen Murphy, CSM’s president, in a news release. “For 60 years, we have been a pillar in the community, helping students to succeed, and Southern Maryland succeed, socially, and economically.”

The success of every student is the first pillar of CSM’s three strategic priorities for meeting the college’s mission and serving students. Integral to student success is how CSM can improve student progress and ultimately every student’s course, degree or certificate completion, according to Dr. Murphy.

The college works to serve all levels of students with initiatives that include academic planning, revised developmental English and math, first-year seminar, and revised curriculum that helps students more seamlessly navigate their programs of study and transfer requirements.

“Our students want to succeed,” Dr. Murphy said. “They work hard but don’t always have the tools they need. Many come to us not knowing where they want to go, or how to get there. So, we’ve developed the simple guided approach of Guided Pathways to help them figure it all out.”

The college is also increasing advising opportunities to help keep students on track, Dr. Murphy said. “And, we’ve introduced a seven-week, mini-term hybrid schedule that will greatly benefit our adult learners to finish faster.”

Several of these initiatives are well underway and proving their worth.

Guided Pathways

To help focus students, the college’s 92 programs have been placed within six program clusters called “Guided Pathways.” The approach helps simplify the process for students to identify the credit or non-credit program that’s right for them by grouping similar programs.

The six pathways are art and humanities; business and information systems; health; education, and public service; science, technology, engineering, and math; and, trades, transportation, and energy.

Guided Pathways are coupled with a Career Coach to help students understand where their skills and interests are strongest.

First Year Seminar: “A Game Changer”

Introduced in the fall 2017 semester, First Year Seminar has already been successful in helping students stay on course. FYS is designed to foster skills in time management, studying, communication, career exploration, self-awareness, critical thinking, and appreciation of collaboration and diversity.

Dr. Murphy said retention, persistence, and successful completion rates for students who participate in FYS are dramatically higher than those who don’t.

“Fall-to-fall retention for students who have taken FYS is about 8 percent higher than for those who haven’t taken this course,” Dr. Murphy said. “For African-American students, the percentage is almost 14 percent higher. We are trying to find a way to require this course for all first-time college students; it’s a game-changer.”

Through FYS, students are given the tools to navigate college, from when they begin at CSM, to when they complete their studies at CSM and move onto a transfer institution.

Seven-Week Evening Terms

A new initiative that will launch with the fall 2019 schedule involves a mini-term hybrid course option that builds on students’ abilities to retain more information within shorter structured time periods.

Capitalizing on research that shows better learning outcomes for students, especially working adults, CSM is shifting most courses meeting after 5 pm to seven-week mini-term classes. Evening classes draw the largest number of working students and the condensed format will maximize their time in coursework, allowing them to complete a degree program within 18 months, according to CSM Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Eileen Abel.

“Research shows that students who accumulate more time learning a subject within a shorter period of time learn better,” Dr. Abel said. “They are able to retain more of the information. We also know from national data that this kind of acceleration allows students to focus on one or two courses at a time, allowing the student to balance other responsibilities, while still being able to complete credit hours toward the educational goal.”

Most of the courses will be offered in a hybrid format which combines the traditional face-to-face class contact once a week with the remainder of the week’s coursework being done online.

An occasional evening course  will be exempt from the mini-term approach, based on academic needs and evidence for the exception, Dr. Abel said. CSM will also offer a self-paced “success in the hybrid environment” course for students, available later this spring.

Robust course options in mini-terms is a best practice of the college’s Guided Pathways design. The accelerated model mirrors successful accelerated formats that are offered at CSM’s partnering transfer institutions, like UMUC, Southern New Hampshire University, Odessa College, and Morgan State.

Becoming familiar with the format while at CSM can help to ease the transition for students who transfer to pursue a bachelor’s degree. “Most institutions that cater to working adults use similar compressed formats with great success,” Dr. Murphy said.

Accelerated Developmental Education

Initiatives that address accelerating the time students are involved in developmental coursework has also met with great success through piloted courses in English and math.

Dr. Abel said that math and English faculty have been testing college-level courses that provide extra support for students who test below college ready. “The success rates have been very good,” she said.

“Some of our students come to us unprepared for college work in English, math, or both,” Dr. Murphy said. “It’s demoralizing for students to learn that they won’t be able to earn college-level credit until their second semester, or even later.” As a result, beginning in fall 2019 nearly all new students will be placed into college-level classes or college-level classes with extra support.

For more about the College of Southern Maryland, visit its Leader member page.

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