ROCK SPRINGS – Western Wyoming Community College is one of 30 colleges nationwide to have been selected by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) to participate in the Pathways Project – Guiding Students to College Completion, an initiative that aims to create and implement a new model for guiding students’ academic and career pathways in a way that assists them in deciding on a course of study and keeps them on track for timely degree completion. Western was invited to join the program, which is funded through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, following a highly competitive national selection process.
“Western has the highest graduation rate of any Wyoming community college, and our faculty and advising staff do a good job of helping our students remain on the pathway to graduation,” said Western President Karla Leach. “But we can always do more. We believe participation in the Pathways Project will position Western to implement the newest and most innovative strategies for ensuring that students complete their degrees on time and in disciplines that will help them gain admission to quality four-year programs and ultimately move into vital and rewarding careers.
“We appreciate that many two-year colleges around the country were considered for this partnership program, and that a relative and select few were accepted. Western is pleased and proud to join the other participating colleges in this important endeavor,” Leach said.
AACC is coordinating a national partnership to build capacity for community colleges to implement a pathways approach to student success and college completion. Partners include: Achieving the Dream, Inc.; the Aspen Institute; the Center for Community College Student Engagement; the Community College Research Center; Jobs for the Future; the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement; and Public Agenda.
These partners have participated actively in the college selection process and also are substantively involved in designing a model series of six two-day Pathways Institutes, each focusing on key elements in a fully scaled pathway model for community colleges. The project is funded through a $5.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Western and the other selected colleges will be the first to participate in the Pathways Institute Series over the next 2.5 years, and they will work with expert coaches at those institutes. In addition, the participating colleges themselves will contribute to learning across the initiative and, more broadly, across the community college field.
“These very diverse community colleges can feel proud of the strong foundations they have laid for this transformational work,” said AACC President Walter G. Bumphus. “We are pleased with the rigor and integrity that the Pathways partners have ensured in the selection process, and all of the partners look forward to the intensive work ahead.”
Guided Pathways are a relatively new approach to advising in which undecided students are encouraged to select, if not a specific discipline, then at least a general area of study – the sciences, for example. Many two-year science degrees have the same or similar course requirements, so students on a science track will have a clearer idea of what courses they must take to complete their degree, even if they are not certain of what discipline they prefer. This approach helps students avoid taking too many general-interest course credits that may not move them closer to a finished degree.
The Pathways colleges are in urban, suburban and rural locations in 17 states, with fall headcount enrollments ranging from less than 3,000 to almost 60,000 students. Other participating institutions include: San Jacinto College in Texas; Irvine Valley College in California; Broward College in Florida; South Seattle Community College in Washington; and Prince George’s Community College in Maryland, among others.
Western is the only Wyoming college represented in the Pathways Project.