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Thinking About Guided Pathways? Understanding How to Use the CCRC Scale of Adoption Assessment

Faculty working on Scale of Adoption Assessment

Over the last few years, the guided pathways approach to institutional redesign has become a national movement in community colleges. However, because guided pathways is a complicated, institution-wide effort, questions remain about what guided pathways entails and how colleges can begin to plan the implementation of pathways practices.

To help operationalize guided pathways, CCRC developed a tool that shows how a college can become a guided pathways institution through the implementation of 19 practices. We call this tool the Scale of Adoption Assessment, or the SOAA. The SOAA provides clear descriptions of what the reform entails and helps colleges assess their progress implementing the practices at scale, for all students in all programs of study.

When Thomas Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars, and Davis Jenkins released Redesigning America’s Community Colleges in 2015, CCRC also released the SOAA. Earlier versions of the SOAA were used as part of CCRC’s work on guided pathways in Tennessee and Arkansas going back to 2013. Working with partners, including the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and Rob Johnstone of the National Center for Inquiry & Improvement, we developed the SOAA to provide a jargon-free description of what guided pathways reforms look like in practice.

What is the SOAA, and how is it used?

The SOAA was the first tool to introduce the four-part framework that is now used across the country to organize and describe the guided pathways model. The four parts are:

  1. mapping pathways to student end goals;
  2. helping students choose and enter a program pathway;
  3. keeping students on path; and
  4. ensuring that students are learning.

These four practice areas were recently included in California’s legislation on guided pathways and have appeared in the products of several technology companies.

The SOAA contains 19 practices that operationalize the four pathways areas. It asks colleges to determine how far along they are toward implementing each practice at scale, describe their progress to date, and identify their next steps and a timeline for implementing these steps.

Download CCRC's Scale of Adoption Assessment

Our goal was to create a tool that clearly describes, in broad terms, how colleges can help students complete their degrees and move on to further education and employment. That’s why we don’t mention common higher education reforms, such as corequisite remediation, math pathways, meta-majors, intrusive advising, or block scheduling, in the SOAA. Instead, we use easy-to-understand language to describe practices that colleges can accomplish in any number of ways. There isn’t one right way to implement guided pathways, but the SOAA provides a research-based framework for helping colleges organize reforms and initiatives they may already be implementing, and to take steps to redesign how students enter and move through programs of study.

As part of CCRC’s research agenda, the pathways team is currently using the SOAA with 90 community colleges in California, Ohio, Tennessee, and Washington, and the 30 colleges in the national AACC Pathways Project. Additionally, through a partnership with Jobs for the Future, CCRC is advising state leaders in Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, and other states on how to use the SOAA to gather information about what their colleges are working on, what they are planning to do, and how the state leadership can help further their adoption of pathways practices. All told, over 250 colleges are using the SOAA to understand what guided pathways looks like in practice and to make plans for scaling these practices. And these are just the colleges that are part of state-based or national initiatives. Other colleges that are independently implementing guided pathways have downloaded the SOAA more than 2,000 times from our website, where it’s always been publicly available.

As part of our research, we administer the SOAA annually to colleges we work with. What’s exciting is that we’re able to observe colleges making steady progress in their implementation of the practices. Because we also spend time talking to college stakeholders about what they’re doing and visiting college campuses, we can help them more accurately assess the changes taking place. Our new practitioner packet, What We Are Learning About Guided Pathways, summarizes some of what we have learned from working with the colleges and includes preliminary data on promising trends in student success and case studies about how leading colleges are implementing pathways.

What does the SOAA process entail?

The process our team uses with colleges and the SOAA involves several steps. First, we introduce the SOAA to college members, explaining how CCRC developed the tool, how colleges can use it for planning and improvement, and how the results will be used by both CCRC and state leadership. Then we advise the colleges to convene a team of people to complete the SOAA and turn it in a few weeks later. As a starting point, we recommend that the following people be included in completing the SOAA:

  • the chief academic officer;
  • the chief student affairs/student services officer;
  • the chief diversity or equity officer;
  • deans and faculty from career-technical and transfer-oriented arts and sciences programs;
  • the director of advising;
  • advisors, success coaches, and counselors;
  • the registrar; and
  • representatives from the registrar, information technology, institutional research, and financial aid offices.

After a college turns in the SOAA, CCRC researchers review it and examine the college’s website to see how easily navigable it is and whether we can find information like degree maps, transfer information, and employment information before calling the college’s team. During the call, we spend 1.5–2 hours interviewing the college team about their responses on the SOAA. We dig into what the colleges are doing; try to learn more about their process, challenges, and successes; talk about their next steps, and connect them with other colleges that have made progress on areas where they have questions or are looking for ideas.

Colleges can also use the SOAA independently of an organized statewide or national initiative. For those colleges, it primarily becomes a self-assessment and planning tool. Several colleges have extended the SOAA to gather additional data, such as who is responsible for particular next steps, and to align the planned reforms with strategic plans and accreditation requirements, union contracts, and the like. We encourage this type of customization of the SOAA. In fact, as part of our work with Tennessee and Washington, we’ve worked with the state boards to customize the SOAA. For example, in Washington, we added several equity-related items, since the state has made closing equity gaps an explicit part of its student success agenda. In Tennessee, we worked with the Tennessee Board of Regents to incorporate the state’s established language for guided pathways reforms, including the adoption of corequisite remediation, academic focus areas, and high-impact practices.

What sort of support does CCRC offer for colleges in using the SOAA?

If you’re using the SOAA with your college, please let us know how it’s going. And if you’re interested in using it, get in touch with us, and we can provide additional resources to help you make the most of the SOAA. You can email us at

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