State higher education board green-lights MCC student success program


The state’s Coordinating Board for Higher Education along with the Missouri Department of Higher Education have approved Metropolitan Community College’s participation in the Guided Pathways to Success pilot program. MCC is one of just five colleges chosen to implement the initiative.

The program focuses on developing clear “degree pathways” designed to keep students on track to graduate on time.

At MCC, the Guided Pathways to Success program will be a collaborative effort between the academic affairs and student services divisions, co-led by Dr. Carlos Peñaloza, vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Dr. Kathrine Swanson, vice chancellor for student success and engagement.  Faculty, staff and administrators from all five MCC campuses are engaged in this important work. The project implementation team includes representation from the faculty, academic advising, enrollment services, learning support services, information technology and marketing and communications areas.

“The program was a good fit for where we are now, because we are already doing so much of this work,” Swanson explains.

The pilot program will be integrated into a larger student retention and completion initiative, which includes transforming academic advising services from walk-in advising to a case management system. The College is already in the midst of redesigning its academic advising processes in preparation for proactive case management advising that will start this fall.

In addition, in 2013, MCC was awarded three U.S. Department of Education Title III grants to address curricular improvements in developmental education and key college-level gateway courses and to develop a comprehensive first-year experience with a redesigned orientation, “intrusive advising” and an array of wrap-around services.

The funding from these five-year grants is supporting the technology tools that will be used for implementation of Guided Pathways at MCC, particularly Hobson’s Starfish Retention Solutions. Starfish includes a degree planner for students, student and advisor dashboards to track student progress and an early alert system. It also connects students to the support services they may need at any point in their academic career.

The state pilot program also aligns with a new five-year Strategic Plan, recently approved by the MCC Board of Trustees. Among other things, the plan calls for maximizing student success through data-informed decisions and learning- and student-centered support services, as well as identifying clear pathways for students to transfer or complete degrees and certificates.

“We want to give our students a clear route from enrollment to graduation,” Swanson says.

“We are working to shift from a generalized student success method to adopting a more personalized and individualized approach,” she adds. “We want to create an environment focused on students by empowering faculty and staff to adopt best practices, identify and remove institutional barriers, and improve student completion, success and engagement.”

The parameters for Guided Pathways to Success set by the Coordinating Board were intentionally broad to encourage innovation and creativity.

Through this program, MCC will:

  • Offer majors organized in semester-by-semester sets of courses that lead to on-time completion.
  • Establish degree-based transfer pathways for students who enroll in multiple institutions to complete degrees.
  • Offer meta-majors designed to minimize the loss of credit due to changes students make in their degree programs.
  • Provide clear degree maps and proactive advising to all enrolled students.

“A big piece of this is going to be allowing our students to take a look at ‘Why am I here, what do I want to do in the future and how do I get there through MCC,’ ” Peñaloza says.

“For our faculty and staff, we will focus on teaching and learning by developing and delivering instruction to support learners in academic, career and personal pursuits.”

MCC submitted the proposal to the Missouri Department of Higher Education through a statewide competitive process, and the program was one of five in the state approved by MDHE in late January.

In approving the pilot, the Coordinating Board explained that “removing barriers to student success is key to increasing educational attainment and keeping postsecondary expenses down. The Guided Pathways to Success hold great promise in achieving both of those goals.”

“We are excited to provide methods and techniques aimed at simplifying students’ academic journeys,” Chancellor Mark James says.  “Instead of zigzagging from one course to another — spending time, energy and money — our hope is that Guided Pathways will make it easier for students.”

MCC will slowly begin implementing the new initiatives this fall. The Coordinating Board will report to the governor and the General Assembly on the outcome of the pilot by Jan. 1, 2020, including whether the program should be expanded statewide.