The Mixed Methods Blog
Behind the Scenes of Guided Pathways Implementation at Greenfield Community College
This blog post is one of a series from colleges that participated in CCRC’s Guided Pathways Summer Institute on how their guided pathways reforms have evolved.
Greenfield Community College (GCC) opened in 1962 and remains the only institution of higher education in Franklin County, an amalgam of towns situated on the eastern slopes of the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts.
Most students at GCC enroll in the Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts, a degree for students who want to transfer to a four-year institution. As CCRC researchers have noted, one of the common issues with this degree is that it does not typically prepare students to enter a major with junior standing when they transfer. To address this challenge, the college provides concentrations within the AA, such as Theater, Farm and Food Systems, and Human Services, though most students still elect to pursue a general liberal arts degree. Additionally, GCC offers programs in business administration, outdoor adventure education, a range of STEM fields, and visual art. A menu of certificate programs targets students interested in specific labor market functions such as nursing, paramedicine, and web development. The college is currently diversifying its academic portfolio to include relevant degree programs that are aligned to regional labor market needs. Until recently, the college organized itself into departments and divisions separated by subject area.
Although the academic enterprise has changed little over the past twenty years, enrollment has declined sharply. GCC enrolled 1,421 students in fall 2021, compared with 2,368 students in fall 2003. A steady decline was made sharper by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a substantial slowing of college admissions during the first two years of the emergency. Furthermore, the number of part-time students has risen by 15% over the past decade. This has impacted retention and completion rates, since only 36% of part-time students, who make up three quarters of the GCC population, are retained by the fall of their second year. At the same time, the fall-to-fall retention rate of full-time students has steadily fallen over the past five years: At 54%, it’s at its lowest since 2004. The three-year completion rate for all students stands at 27%.
Just prior to the pandemic, GCC was a traditional, comprehensive community college. The effects of the pandemic, along with new leadership, have catalyzed efforts to adopt guided pathways reforms to rebuild lost enrollment by addressing retention and completion challenges. GCC’s current president, Michelle Schutt, supported a full-scale implementation of guided pathways, streamlining the disparate efforts that were already underway. As part of CCRC’s 2021 Guided Pathways Summer Institute, which was aimed at helping rural community colleges to develop and implement guided pathways, GCC examined data on program enrollments and utilized the time, coaching, and peer-to-peer support to further develop a new advising model. We also began planning ways to organize the remaining work.
Pandemic funds also allowed the college to operationalize elements of guided pathways, namely a case management advising model supported by a new team of success coaches. Success coaches are now supporting the majority of students at GCC. Each coach is assigned to a set of similar majors, an approach that has been used to help define the college’s meta-majors and provide an additional layer of support for students in collaboration with their faculty advisor. Over the next year, GCC will expand the success coach model so that every student is assigned to a coach and a faculty advisor at the time of acceptance. Currently, coaches support students to build schedules that meet each individual’s needs and to ensure they are on a path to timely completion. To complement the new coaching model, GCC has made efforts to evaluate its academic programs with an aim to increase retention and overall completion rates. In fall 2023, GCC will shift to a fully corequisite support model for math, eliminating prerequisite remediation and shifting its practices to align with national research findings.
We have also been taking a close look at the programs we offer at the college. Prior to the pandemic, half of GCC’s 27 academic programs enrolled fewer than 10 students and accounted for only 2% of the college’s net tuition and fee revenue. Maintaining these programs for just a few students proved costly. Even with only a few students in these majors, the college was obliged to offer classes needed for graduation or to amend requirements through the use of waivers, allowing students to take other classes. Likewise, over 50% of GCC’s credit-bearing certificate programs were under-enrolled in 2020. Though certificate programs are often aimed at providing students with direct entry-level employment, most certificates at GCC, with the exception of those in the health professions, are minimally effective in helping students get a job.
Between 2020 and 2022, Greenfield Community College reduced its academic programs from 63 degrees, concentrations, and certificates to 39. Additionally, the college has decreased the number of courses offered so that students have fewer choices when they register for classes each semester, providing more focused options. The new suite of programs will both save the college money—important at this time of shrinking enrollments—and provide a more relevant set of pathways. The college is continuing to focus on helping student identify programs aligned with their interests and goals and to further reduce the number of students that are enrolling in the general liberal studies degree without a concentration.
Though demographic changes will likely lead to lower enrollment at community colleges across the country, Greenfield Community College will be a leader in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts community college system as the first institution to fully implement guided pathways at scale.