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The Texas Pathways Project

The Texas Success Center is excited to launch the Texas Pathway Project—a statewide strategy focused on building capacity for community colleges to design and implement structured academic and career pathways at scale, for all students. Closely based on the current national Pathways Project led by the American Association of Community Colleges and building on emerging research and experience in the field, this project is intentionally designed to dramatically contribute to the state’s strategic plan of increasing credentialed young Texans to 60% by 2030. The Texas Pathways Project reflects the Success Center’s commitment to support all 50 Texas community colleges districts’ student success efforts through a major coherent and comprehensive strategy.

Increasing levels of postsecondary educational attainment among Texas young people has become an ever more salient imperative. The opportunity for quality employment and a rewarding adult life largely depends upon completing an academic credential. While the state’s Higher Education Strategic Plan calls for 60% of 25- to 34-year-old Texans to hold a quality certificate or degree by 2030, unfortunately, only 38% of young Texans have a postsecondary credential. Only one in five 8th grade students in Texas achieves this goal within six years of finishing high school. Worse yet, there are alarming disparities across racial and gender subgroups. White students’ rates of earning a college credential are two to two and a half times higher than those of Hispanics and blacks. And less than 9% of Hispanic and black 8th grade males earn any postsecondary credential within 11 years.Given the growing Hispanic population, inequitable achievement gaps in Texas are likely to widen absent a large-scale strategy to dramatically improve students’ paths toward completion.

Building Capacity for Reform at Scale in Texas Community Colleges

A decade of intensive focus on improving student success in community colleges, both nationally and in Texas, has produced notable effects: a dramatic increase in awareness of the challenges and in commitment to college completion as a critical goal; a sea change in the use of data to assess and monitor student success and institutional performance; a growing body of evidence regarding effective educational practice in community colleges; and increasing numbers of institutions that are putting that knowledge into practice and demonstrating encouraging results. These promising developments can be attributed to the unprecedented efforts of a collection of philanthropies, national organizations, state systems, and institutions that have worked both collectively and individually to investigate practice, implement change, and produce results. 

Now, there is a striking convergence of research and lessons of experience, as these people and their organizations have come to the shared understanding that progress, while evident in some places, is too slow; that the favored solutions of the past decade, while often necessary components of change, do not adequately address the magnitude of the challenges community colleges and their students face; and that typically, the changes thus far achieved have not been fundamental enough—and certainly not scaled enough—to achieve the improvements in completion of college credentials with strong labor market value, especially among low-income students and students of color, that are necessary to reclaim the American Dream.

Recognizing these realities—and affirming the critical role of Texas’ community colleges, the Texas Success Center has taken steps for supporting a statewide project focused on building capacity for community colleges to design and implement structured academic and career pathways for all of their students.  Building on emerging research and experience in the field, the Texas Pathways Project reflects the Success Center’s commitment to support all 50 Texas community colleges districts’ student success efforts through a major coherent and comprehensive strategy.  Based on the American Association of Community College (AACC) Pathways Model, the Texas Pathways Model is an integrated, system-wide approach to student success based on intentionally designed, clear, coherent and structured educational experiences, informed by available evidence, that guide each student effectively and efficiently from the selection of their high school degree program (HB5 endorsements in five academic/career areas) to postsecondary entry through to attainment of high-quality credentials and careers with value in the labor market.

A System Approach

The Texas Pathways Project boldly targets transforming the educational system across three sectors, starting with the community colleges as leads with partners from public schools and 4-year institutions. The Project is by its definition a system approach to broad scale change including the institutional and state policy support needed to bring about the transformation needed. First, the Texas Pathways Model targets system change across the full spectrum of services provided within the community college where redesigns must pay attention to the entire student experience, rather than to just one segment of it.  As a college-level system, programs, support services, and instructional approaches are redesigned and re-aligned to help students clarify their goals, choose and enter pathways that will achieve those goals, stay on those pathways, and master knowledge and skills that will enable them to advance in the labor market and successfully pursue further education.

Next, beyond the college-level system, the Texas Pathways Project broadly targets three educational sectors as partners taking collective action to ensure students earn post secondary credentials leading toward meaningful careers.  Orchestrating collaborative strategies, Texas community colleges will take the lead in actively engaging their public school and 4-year institutional partners in reviewing the alignment of programs and services with high school degree programs (HB5 endorsements), meta-majors, and efficient transfer.  In so doing, the multi-sector strategy acts as a single system’s approach to improving their shared students’ experiences.

Rounding out the full Texas Pathways ecosystem, the Project will also include state and institutional policy strategies. The Texas Success Center will gather lessons from the Pathways work to inform and support the Texas Association of Community Colleges and the Texas Student Success Council on state policies that enable colleges in implementing Pathways at scale.  Additionally, the annual Texas Success Center Board of Trustee Institutes will inform and challenge institutional policy and engage community college trustees in enabling successful Pathways adoption and scale.

The Pathways Institute Series

During the initial phase of the project, the Texas Success Center will build a series of six institutes, based on the AACC Pathways Institutes, each 2.5 days in length, designed to engage five to seven-person college teams of varying composition. All Texas Pathways Institutes will support committed community colleges in work to design and implement clear, structured student pathways to high-quality credentials that are aligned to high school endorsements, to university transfer and to jobs with value in the labor market.

Each Texas Pathways Institute will focus on a critical aspect of institutional change and pathway design and implementation; each will require advance work by the colleges, and each will result in products developed by the participating college teams, including action plans. The institute format will combine discussions with experts, technical assistance, and facilitated discussion and planning sessions for college teams.