Create Smarter Pathways

icon3Create Smarter Pathways for Students

Guided pathways to degrees and the workplace can help reduce time- and credit-to-degree
by offering highly structured programs, limiting student choices and providing intensive advising.

To reach the goal of 60 percent attainment by 2025 and meet the economy’s demand for 23 million additional postsecondary credentials, states and their systems and institutions of higher education will need to create clearer and smarter pathways to degrees for traditional and nontraditional students alike. State and higher education leaders need to support innovative new models that expand access and increase student success, particularly for populations traditionally underrepresented in higher education. New models should provide greater flexibility in terms of time and place while also ensuring high-quality learning.

States, systems and institutions are experimenting with a variety of alternatives, and several have already begun to establish a track record of progress. Many of them are focused on removing the challenges and barriers that so often prevent students from completing degree programs: time, cost, work and family obligations. But many also offer students clear roadmaps for getting from matriculation to graduation with fewer possibilities of stumbling blocks along the way. They offer greater flexibility and attempt to make earning a degree more efficient in both time and cost while maintaining a commitment to high-quality learning.

These recommendations provide clear, detailed steps to increase higher education attainment, while also maintaining the flexibility to respond to unique conditions and the needs of each state. Each state will determine how best to create a policy environment that supports efforts to increase higher education attainment and reach Goal 2025.

Guided pathways to degrees and the workplace can help reduce time and credit to degree by offering highly structured programs, limiting student choices and providing intensive advising. Aligned K-12 assessments can help ensure greater levels of preparation for college-level learning and provide opportunities for remediation and credit acceleration in high school. Students who are better prepared for entry-level, credit-bearing college courses avoid the loss of time and money spent on remediation and can begin making progress toward a degree immediately. Improved policies that guarantee credit transfer, allow prior learning assessment and develop competency-based programs provide greater flexibility for returning adult learners and part-time students. Enacting credit caps or creating incentives for institutions and students to limit excess credits can save resources that can be better used serving additional students. Adopting the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) can help promote the availability of online learning options. Many of these models support returning adult learners, but states and institutions also should develop deliberate strategies for identifying adults who have earned some college credit but no degree to re-engage them for completion.

The policy options below provide details, evidence and some examples for state and system leaders to consider as they work to advance this core element.  Policymakers and higher education leaders are encouraged to use this set of resource tools as appropriate and most relevant to meet their individual state’s needs for increasing attainment.