This guide is intended to help community college leaders understand the costs involved in implementing guided pathways reforms and develop plans for funding and sustaining them. It is based on research at six institutions that have implemented large-scale changes based on the guided pathways model, which focuses on supporting students to enter and complete programs of study that lead to good jobs and transfer to four-year college programs. The guide explores the following questions:
- What are the up-front and recurring costs of guided pathways reforms?
- How are colleges funding these costs?
- How are colleges sustaining support for guided pathways practices?
- How can college leaders contemplating guided pathways reforms estimate the costs involved and develop a viable plan for funding and sustaining the reforms?
All six case study institutions incurred costs above and beyond the status quo, with the largest costs related to hiring, training, and maintaining an adequate number of advisors for case management advising by field. Significant start-up costs also included purchasing or upgrading information systems to support websites with user-friendly program maps, educational planning, case-management advising, and class scheduling.
However, college leaders reported that they do not intend to return to old practices—even in response to a crisis of the magnitude of COVID-19—because guided pathways reforms have led to improved outcomes for students and benefited the colleges as businesses. Four colleges reported increased Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) retention and graduation rates and reductions in non-degree-applicable credits. Moreover, leaders at every college indicated that they were better positioned to respond to the COVID-19 crisis because of changes they made as part of their pathways reforms.
This guide outlines steps that college leaders can take to estimate the costs involved in implementing guided pathways and develop a plan for funding and sustaining these reforms. A companion technical paper estimates the overall costs of implementing guided pathways for colleges of various sizes.