The future path for Texas high school students to a college degree or job training may prove straighter and smoother, with community colleges including McLennan Community College working to mark that path.
Last month, the Texas Association of Community Colleges’ Texas Success Center picked MCC as one of 13 Cadre 1+ community colleges to share its experience in steering students to completed degrees and job certifications in the latest phase of a five-year $11 million Texas Pathways Grant.
MCC has been working on streamlining a student’s path to a degree or job skills certification for several years for various reasons, Vice President for Instruction Fred Hills said.
Students aware of degree and program requirements at each step of their education were more likely to stay focused on completion. Better advising of dual credit students, many of whom are high school students, means fewer extraneous courses taken and a more efficient use of educational resources. More attention paid to counseling, financial aid and other support services helps improve student retention.
Colleges in Cadre 1+, one of four groups, are furthest along in implementing strategies developed under the Pathways plan, the Texas Success Center’s “strategy to build capacity for Texas community colleges to implement structured academic and career pathways at scale.”
It involves coordinating communication between schools as they share their strategies and experiences, and the grant covers colleges’ participation in periodic institutes for training and discussion as well as instructional materials.
The Texas Pathways project comes in part as state education officials look for ways to increase the number of college-educated and job-trained Texans. A Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board study shows that only one-fifth of Texans who were in eighth grade in 2006 had completed post-high school education or training by 2017.
In 2015, the board approved “60x30TX,” a plan that calls for 60% of Texans ages 25 to 34 to have a college degree or job certification by 2030 to provide the educated labor force the state needed for its future.
Part of the plan sets a goal of 550,000 students earning degrees or certificates in 2030 from a Texas college, university or institute, while another part aims at keeping higher education affordable, with student loan indebtedness not exceeding 60% of a graduate’s first-year wages.
Texas community college advocates see community colleges as key components to meeting the goals, because of community colleges’ accessibility, shorter degree or certification timelines, and lower cost.
A challenge in creating degree pathways comes in those colleges’ student diversity. Some are high school graduates on their way to a four-year college degree at another institution. Some are adults returning for additional education and training. Many are part-time students with full-time jobs. Many are raising families.
For some, college is the place to explore career options before deciding on one, something an inflexible degree pathway might make harder. To accommodate that, MCC’s strategy is to steer students into six broad Pathway options — Science, technology, engineering, mathematics; Liberal Arts; Health Careers; Business and Industry; Public Service; and Creative Arts — with more specific degree and certification training within those categories.
After required initial advising, students can start within a Pathway, then either focus on specific degree requirements or shift to another interest early with minimal interruption in a degree or certification plan.
“The goal is to get a job and a career, but there’s room to explore without losing ground,” Hills said.
There is also a measure of uncertainty when planning for the future.
“There are some jobs (in the future) that haven’t been created yet,” Hills said.