Guided Pathways


Guided Pathways is an umbrella term used to describe highly structured student experiences that guide students on the pathway to completion.


It is not a specific academic program.

It is not a college policy.

It is not a technology.



Guided Pathways is a framework by which an institution applies strategic coherence to its policies, program pathways, technology, advising, and business processes. This is a critical distinction as we know that the challenges our institutions face and the challenges of our students are inextricably linked, as are the successes of our institutions and the successes of our students.


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Image credit: Completion by Design

Very simply put, Guided Pathways is not some program or thing that a college does to suddenly improve student outcomes. It is the thoughtful consideration of internal and external factors that influence our college communities, and the willingness to take a systemic approach to addressing those factors in the interest of student success. Guided Pathways is purposeful design thinking to shepherd our students from connection through completion. In a Guided Pathways approach, incoming students are given support to clarify goals for college and careers, choose a program of study, and develop an academic plan with predictable schedules. Embedded advising, progress tracking, and feedback are integrated into pathways leading to successful transfer or entry into the labor market.


Wait…don’t we already do that?!


For some students, the answer is yes. At each of our colleges there is a high touch program or two that addresses specific populations of students with embedded advising and coaching to ensure they stay on-track and onto completion. For the vast majority of our students, self-advising is the norm and there are no embedded or intrusive support services. For these students, they are doing the best they can to navigate our institutions, and far too often, they are unsuccessful. What we know for sure is that we must find a way to streamline our programs and services and scale our support efforts to ensure that faculty and staff have a clear understanding as to the goals of each student in our colleges. From there, we can do our best to target limited resources on high-touch services and support for those who need them most.


View the presentation: 

 “A College Story”

  Guided Pathways

Executive Summit 2/18

“Building Guided

Pathways Toolkit”

 The VCCS has been working diligently to implement policies that support holistic Guided Pathways reforms. Most recently, the implementation of a Multiple Measures policy to improve accuracy in the placement of students in college level Math and English courses. In addition, the ongoing work of the Math Pathways workgroup to develop a new system-wide approach to the levels of math required for different program/career tracks, directly impacts structured pathway development and time-to-degree completion.





VCCS Math Pathways


The VCCS Math Pathways Project to improve student success in developmental mathematics through gateway mathematics courses by reducing time to completion has now moved from design to implementation. Click here for more information. 



AACC Guided Pathways Resource Center 

The resources at include training modules, tools, print materials, and examples from colleges. The site also features videos in which a range of people — including practitioners, college presidents, and pathways partners — share their experiences and expertise. Perhaps most important, it includes videos of students explaining how pathways help them make informed educational choices and then stay on track.


This resource center is organized around the guided pathways model. Click any section — planningimplementationearly outcomes, or evaluation — to see details of the model and to find relevant tools and resources. Or visit toolkits for collections of materials on key topics.



Common Guided Pathways Terms

A Meta-Major is a cluster of academic programs grouped together by common or related courses or occupations. Instead of giving incoming students a list of more than 100 majors – in some cases as many as 300 majors – to choose from, colleges are defining 5-10 meta-majors to help students narrow their program interests early in their academic careers if they are undecided at the time of application. These pathways ensure that students register for relevant courses that add up to a coherent degree program.

Example of Meta-Majors explained: Indian River State College


How to Create a Meta-Major Presentation by Jobs for The Future 

Onboarding is what happens between the time a student applies to the college and his/her first day of class. According to a recent study, about half of students who apply to Virginia’s Community Colleges drop out before they attend their first class. Getting to day one requires a significant amount of time and effort on the part of students, and the process is especially daunting for underserved, at-risk students. The goal of onboarding is to increase enrollment yields by streamlining admissions, financial aid, orientation, and registration processes in ways that reduce student “run around” and support student success.


Example of common Onboarding challenges: Education Advisory Board Infographic

Click Here


Structured Programs are streamlined programs of study developed with simple choices, limited electives, and relevant coursework to create a clear roadmap to a career or transfer institution. Within Structured Programs, colleges can create opportunities for sequences of courses, credentials, or certifications that build upon each other to lead to more education or career mobility. These Stackable Credentials build pathways with off-ramps for students who need to enter the workforce and easy on-ramps for when they want to return to obtain a higher-level credential. Technical, critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills and theoretical knowledge increase as the student obtains higher education levels. In a stackable credentials program, students who drop out do not have to repeat coursework or start all over in order to reach the next milestone.


Example of a clear program pathway roadmap: St. Petersburg College Pathway Roadmap

Example of structured programs explained to students: St. Petersburg College Academic Pathways 




The examples below come from the work currently underway across the VCCS, the work that improves student outcomes through deliberate examination of policies, program pathways, technology, advising, and business processes. As our colleges progress in this work, we will update this page to reflect the most recent examples. 



Examples of Guided Pathways Beginnings from VCCS


Wytheville Community College’s Story — 




In November 2015, Dr. Lorri Huffard (Vice President of Instruction and Student Development), applied for a Chancellor’s Innovation Fund (CFI) grant entitled “Access Success: Creating Guided Pathways to Success”. Upon receiving the grant funding, the timeline for completion was January-July 2016. After assembling a Pathways Team and appointing a Faculty Coordinator (Tracy McAfee, Associate Professor of CST), work began on the WCC Pathways Project. WCC hired “Access” (a firm out of Roanoke) to help create the webpages and to coordinate the project. Access had created WCC’s website and thought it would be best to have the same firm coordinate the efforts for the pathways project.


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Piedmont Virginia Community College’s Story — 




The PVCC Student Success Leadership Team met with the academic deans to categorize its degree and certificate programs into well-defined meta-majors. The degrees and certificates naturally fell into five major categories: Art and Humanities, Business, Education and Human Services, Health Sciences, and Science, Information Technology, Engineering, and Manufacturing. Teaching faculty were introduced to the concept and the five meta-major categories and asked for feedback and input into how degrees and certificates were divided. Faculty provided useful feedback thatwas incorporated into the final version of PVCC’s meta-majors.


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Central Virginia Community College’s Story —




CVCC kicked off the 2016-17 academic year with a project that involved the complete review of every academic program within their annual assessment process. As part of that process they conducted audits and analysis which revealed many important simple modifications to their programs of study. These modifications will become effective Fall 2017 and will be conveyed broadly at the launch of CVCC’s redesigned website to coincide with the Fall 2017 enrollment kick-off.

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Examples of Guided Pathways Work