Throughout the country, colleges and universities struggle to keep students on track toward graduation. Often, students waste time, money and credit hours on courses that don’t relate to their degree, ultimately leading them not to graduate at all. Complete College America has established one of its newest game changers called Guided Pathways to Success (GPS). This is a system where every student is given a clear path to complete their program of study and move directly into the job market or a baccalaureate program. The system operates on this simple notion: when students are given a clear path toward their degree, they are more likely to complete their degree.
The need for a change in approach was clear, according to Complete College America research. Of students who actually graduate, full-time students take 3.9 years to obtain an associate’s degree on average and average 4.9 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
On average, only 5 percent of full time students graduate with an Associate’s Degree on time and only 18.1 percent of full time students graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree on time.
This used to be the case at West Virginia University at Parkersburg (WVUP) too. However, by implementing GPS, the college has seen a dramatic 10 percent increase in student success in the past year. The college has become more streamlined
and efficient, operating classes at capacity – saving nearly $200,000 in just one year.
With guided pathways, students know exactly what they need to do to get their degree and complete their program in a timely manner. This is paired with a commitment from the college to keep students on course and provide faculty and staff to guide students, keeping them on track toward graduation.
Former President Fletcher M. Lamkin, Ph. D. and his team at WVUP began implementing this program about a year ago. Lamkin said it takes the whole team to see the incredible results they are getting from students.
“You can’t just solve one piece of a problem and expect it to work,” said Lamkin. “You have to really commit and work with all the pieces of the puzzle.”
To implement the GPS program, the college team reevaluated everything they do at the school with the focus of more effectively serving students. From consolidating and eliminating unnecessary offices and jobs, to creating a more efficient registration system for students, to clearly labeled hallways in the school layout, and making navigation much simpler for new-comers.
“Before, students would come in to the school to register and spend hours here waiting in
lines to get registered for classes that they may not even want or need, then they would have to go home and
watch hours of orientation videos, before rescheduling a date to come back and go through the actual orientation process,” said Lamkin. “It was crazy; so, we completely changed it.”
Today, when you step through the front doors at WVU Parkersburg, all office doors are open, the colors are coordinated and bright, and each office is marked with a hanging sign labeling exactly what it is. The first impression is of a
public square, where you might walk around and shop or sit on a park bench while sipping coffee. The relaxing and inviting atmosphere is intentional.
“We want every student who walks through this building to feel welcome and comfortable here,” said Lamkin.
If students have no idea want they want to study, they will be taken to the professional development center, to chat with five people who each have a specialty field in one of five “meta-majors” –classified groups of majors, like health sciences, social sciences, or business that allows core classes to be geared toward what a student may need or want to learn. These people work to find out what a student may be interested in, what their strengths are, to help them define their major at least in a broad category.
Once a decision about which meta-major most fits their interests, students will head to student services and continue the registration process, where they then visit each specialist from financial aid, to scheduling. Students now average just over an hour to continue through the entire process, from: “what is this place?” to “I can’t wait to start classes!”
In addition to the aesthetic and efficiency changes, came money savings. After reviewing and updating the schedule, Dr. Lamkin and his team found many unnecessary course sections were being scheduled and paid for.
These changes allowed WVUP to operate with a balanced budget, make updates to the school, and provide employees with a two percent raise. All this despite state level budget cuts.
“We have made incredible progress,” said Lamkin. “Everyone has cooperated to make this an incredible work and learning environment, but we have plenty more plans for the future.”