Guided Pathways


As noted at the Guided Pathways Initiative site at the Center for Community College Research (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, “Guided Pathways is a “whole-college redesign model designed to help all students explore, choose, plan, and complete programs aligned with their career and education goals efficiently and affordably. Hundreds of colleges are implementing guided pathways reforms to improve student completion rates, close equity gaps, and increase enrollments in an increasingly competitive environment.”

The movement seeks to streamline a student’s journey through college by providing structured choice, revamped support, and clear learning outcomes— with the aim to help more students achieve their college completion goals. The reform recognizes that the current self-service model of community colleges leads many students to unintended dead ends or unforeseen detours in the form of excess or out-of-sequence credit. 

There are four pillars of guided pathways: 

  1. Clarify pathways to end goals
  2. Help students choose and enter pathway.
  3. Help students stay on path.
  4. Ensure students are learning. 

One reason Guided Pathways is so challenging to implement is the lack of clarity around what it is —the pillars outline broad principles but leave the specifics of implementation up to interpretation by the colleges.


Nearly 400 community colleges are implementing guided pathways reforms as part of formal national or statewide initiatives in 16 states, while many other colleges are doing so on their own. Colleges support and encourage students exploring their own interests and aspirations. 

Alternative Terminology

  • Degree pathways
  • Credit pathways
  • Pathways


The 2015 book, Redesigning America’s Community Colleges (Thomas Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars, Davis Jenkins) spearheaded the movement for colleges to undertake wholesale restructuring of their programs and student supports. Since the book’s publication, there has been growing evidence on how to effectively implement guided pathways, promote equity, and measure impacts on students.

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