A change in the institutional mindset is key to helping students
Editor’s note: Al Solano will be featured as a guest speaker at an Iowa Department of Education webinar on guided pathways on April 8. Faculty from Iowa’s community colleges will gain insight from Solano on how guided pathways can assist their students and their institutions.
Solano is the founder and higher education coach at the Continuous Learning Institute and is a noted expert on student success strategies, educational leadership and institutional planning and implementation. He has worked with over 40 academic institutions and has provided training to over 5,000 educators. Along with coaching higher education institutions, Solano’s wealth of experience has also included an education career in both K-12 and community colleges.
Solano’s work with community colleges has included a focus on the guided pathways model. Guided pathways are implemented at community colleges to help ensure a student’s success by providing structure, support and clear academic goals.
As a precursor to the webinar, staff from the Iowa Department of Education recently caught up with Solano to ask about his work with guided pathways.
What is your philosophy on guided pathways?
Guided pathways are about the relentless pursuit of continuous improvement to ensure student success and equity.
Why do you think guided pathways are important for both students as well as higher education institutions?
Guided pathways help to improve the student experience and completion outcomes. In the journey to continually improve, institutions of higher education have to break down silos. The days of faculty-versus-administration and vice versa need to end. We all need to work together. Everyone — I mean everyone — plays a critical role to improve student success and equity. We work best when we collaborate and treat each other with kindness.
Are there any barriers for institutions that are trying to implement guided pathways for their students? If so, what basic advice would you give to help mitigate these issues?
Colleges were not built to pivot quickly. Entrenched mindsets are prevalent. Basically, guided pathways require a culture shift, and as Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” So, an institution’s greatest barrier is often its culture. I believe culture is changed through productive work. Successful action (getting things done) gives rise to improved attitudes, beliefs and knowledge. Unfortunately, many colleges focus on having endless discussions about the merits and planning of guided pathways but don’t actually do the work. I find that most colleges that say they’re implementing guided pathways are actually planning. There’s a big difference. And it’s reflected in the student outcome data.
How have you collaborated with Southeastern Community College (SCC) on guided pathways?
When I coach colleges, I focus on what I like to call “The Three Cs: Clarity, Coherence and Consensus.” In order to do this, I have established settings with SCC to ensure that meetings are productive, that we understand the importance of kindness, and that we have a shared purpose for the work. It’s not rocket science, but excellence can often be defined by doing the ordinary extraordinarily well.