Pasadena City College (PCC) leverages district and federal resources to operate "PCC Pathways," a comprehensive approach designed to ensure that students identify and complete their academic goals in a timely manner. The program guarantees students full schedules -- including difficult-to-get English and math courses -- in the fall and spring semesters of their first year and provides them with the critical support they need outside of the classroom. PCC Pathways goes beyond merely a "first-year experience," however, by offering to students a second-year component as well. In 2015-16 more than 2,200 students enrolled in first year of PCC Pathways and 750 students qualified the second year of PCC Pathways.

The Challenge

According to a 2012 report from Pasadena City College’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness, each year more than 75% of incoming PCC students as assessed as needing remediation in English and/or math. Fewer than 13% of these students, however, will make it to transfer-level math and only 2% of the students who place into pre-algebra (three levels below college-level math) will make it through the basic skills math sequence within six years. The report also revealed that 69% of our basic skills students had no discernible milestone after six years (such as earning a certificate -- or even completing the basic skills sequence), and 19% were lost after their first year of college.


PCC Pathways was launched in 2011 to increase the success, persistence, and completion rates of students at Pasadena City College.

The program uses a prescriptive “guided pathway” approach, which includes a comprehensive set of support services and many high impact practices, including a first-year seminar and access to counselors, coaches, tutors, and a dedicated resource center. The program currently applies to students in their first and second year at PCC.

To maintain Pathways status in their first year, students must:
  • Attend a week-long summer orientation, called Jam
  • Carry a minimum of 12 units (full-time student status)
  • Enroll in math, English, and a first-year seminar (College 1)
  • Meet regularly with their coach and counselor
  • Develop an ePortfolio
  • Participate in various workshops and activities, and
  • Complete a "contract" that includes maintaining a GPA of 2.5 or better and participating in academic, social, and volunteer activities.
Students who meet all program requirements receive priority registration.

In fall 2014, PCC Pathways piloted its second-year component. In their second year, students must attend a summer orientation and participate in career exploration, leadership, and campus engagement activities during the academic year to keep priority registration and have access to the program’s resources and services.

PCC Pathways is proving highly effective in increasing retention and persistence rates and reducing the equity gap in the critical first year of college for participating students. There are five Pathways:
  • XL, which is the largest pathway and open to any student.
  • International, which focuses on the needs of international students.
  • Career, for students who enter college with an interest in design technology or media arts
  • Athletes, which support student athletes, and
  • Ujima, which focuses on African American themes and issues
PCC Pathways grew from 385 first year students in 2011-12 to approximately 3,000 first and second year students in 2015-16. Approximately 40% of new first-time students are enrolled in the program. PCC Pathways receives 85% of its funding from the district (mostly through general operating dollars) and the other 15 percent from federal grant monies (primarily Title V).

PCC Pathways consists of a number of essential components, as described below.

Priority Registration. All eligible students are given priority registration, allowing them to enroll in the courses required of FYP students: English, Math, College 1, and a general education course.

Summer Bridge -- Math Jam/iJam/Design Jam. PCC’s one-week summer bridges connect innovative instruction with engaging orientation-to-college activities. Students learn about the college; make friends; and meet the counselors, success coaches, and tutors who will support them outside of the classroom.

First Year Seminar -- College 1. This UC/CSU transferable first year seminar course provides students with a rigorous academic experience in their first semester of college. Students exercise their reading, thinking, and research skills while developing the academic and personal behaviors necessary to succeed in college.

“One Book, One College.” In the fall of their first year, students read and engage in discussions about a common book with diverse communities on and off campus. The program culminates with guest speakers and related events as well as the First Year Student Conference, which celebrates first year student research.

First-Year Counselors. Pathways students have access to dedicated counselors who have been trained to handle the special needs of first year students.

First-Year Coaches. Coaches serve as advisors and mentors to Pathways students. They closely monitor students’ academic progress and help them access appropriate college resources.

First-Year Tutors. Pathways tutors are typically former First Year Pathways (FYP) students who have been trained to work with Pathways students throughout the academic year.

ePortfolio. Students begin their ePortfolio, an online assessment and career tool, during Jam and continue to develop it until they complete their academic goal(s) at the college.

Career Exploration. Students assess, explore and reflect on career options and the majors that will help them achieve their academic and professional goals. Speech 1 has been redesigned with a career focus. Resources include online career tools, ePortfolio, workshops, and guest speakers. Participation in PCC’s Career Week and Majors Fair is required.

Dedicated Resource Centers. All Pathways students have access to various centers on campus, where they can study, attend workshops, work with a tutor, and/or meet with their counselor or coach.

Data and Outcomes

The following evaluation findings are from the PCC Pathways Student Success Study, which was prepared by the UCLA Social Research Methodology Evaluation Group in October 2015.

Credits. Pathways students earned significantly more credits each year than non-Pathways students.

1. By the end of their 1st year, the 2014-2015 Pathways cohort (not including summer), had earned 22.1 credits compared to 13.2 earned by non-Pathways students.

2. By the end of their 2nd year, the 2013-2014 Pathways cohort had earned 42.8 credits, compared to 30.7 earned by the non-Pathways cohort.

3. By the end of their 3rd year, the 2012-2013 Pathways cohort had earned 52.2 credits, compared to 31.5 earned by the non-Pathways cohort.

Persistence. Pathways students persisted each year at significantly higher rates than non-Pathways students.

1. 77% of Pathways students in the 2013-14 cohort persisted from 1st to 2nd year, while 44% of non-Pathways students persisted at from 1st to 2nd year.

2. 84% of Pathways students in the 2012-13 cohort persisted from 1st to 2nd year, and 61% from 2nd to 3rd year. In contrast, 40% of Non-Pathways students persisted from 1st to 2nd year, and 28% from 2nd to 3rd year.

Transfer status. At the end of their second and third years, a significantly higher percentage of Pathways students had achieved transfer-directed, transfer-ready, and/or transfer-prepared status (as defined by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Data Mart) than non-Pathways students. The transfer-directed, transfer-prepared, and transfer-ready rates of Pathways students were more than double those of non-Pathways students.

1. By the end of their 1st year, 2014-2015 cohort: 18% of Pathways students were transfer-directed compared to 3% of non-Pathways students.

2. By the end of their 2nd year, 2013-2014 cohort: 20% of Pathways students were transfer-directed compared to 9% of non-Pathways students. 8% were transfer-prepared compared to 2% of non-Pathways students. 6% were transfer-ready compared to 4% of non-Pathways students.

3. By the end of their 3rd year, 2012-2013 cohort: 31% of Pathways students were transfer-directed compared to 13% of non-Pathways students. 28% were transfer-prepared compared to 13% of non-Pathways students. 19% were transfer-ready compared to 9% of non-Pathways students.

Degrees and Certificates. A significantly higher percentage of Pathways students than non-Pathways students received a degree at the end of three years. Roughly the same proportion of Pathways and non-Pathways students received a certificate at the end of three years.

1. By the end of their 2nd year, 3% of students in the 2013-2014 Pathways cohort received a degree compared to 1% of non-Pathways students.

2. By the end of their 3rd year, 12% of students in the 2012-2013 Pathways cohort received a degree compared to 5% of non-Pathways students.

The UCLA external evaluation team concluded that participation in the PCC Pathways Program significantly increases students’ likelihood of attaining transfer-ready status. This is achieved because Pathways students:
  • Are full-time students, which is a key factor in persistence and transfer status
  • Persist from year to year
  • Begin the math and English sequences in the first year, helping them reach transfer-level math and English courses more quickly
  • Earn more credits, positioning themselves for transfer and/or AA/AS degree or certificate attainment
A major component of what makes PCC Pathways successful is the dedicated resources from the college. Based on the success of PCC Pathways, there is much that the college can do to support student success campus-wide:
  • Guarantee enrollment in math and English for all new first-year students and provide support (i.e., tutoring, study groups, coaching) to increase their chances of success in these classes
  • Strongly encourage students to enroll full time (a minimum of 12 units) each semester
  • Develop resources and services to increase the number of full-time students
  • Provide mandatory advisement to ensure that students follow their personal education plans and select courses that further their academic goal(s)

Other Comments

Complete College America, a national nonprofit organization, promotes a prescriptive model for increasing completion rates at two and four-year institutions that includes structured schedules and guided pathways. According to the group, too much choice, especially uninformed choice, leads to indecision or poor decisions.

After piloting several different models, PCC has confirmed Complete College America's view: PCC Pathways staff have learned that when faced with myriad choices, first year students, especially those underprepared for college work, tend to make poor course choices. This can be complicated by the lack of adequate advisement — students often don’t know what classes will move them forward toward academic goal completion.

Based on this experience, Pathways staff has adopted the highly prescriptive model promoted by Complete College America. Pathways students are required to attend the one-week orientation to college, Jam. In order to receive priority registration and access to Pathways resources, first-year students also must take English and math in the fall and spring semesters and take PCC’s first-year seminar course, College 1, in the fall and a career-oriented speech class in the fall or spring.

PCC Pathways staff members have also learned the power and value of peer relationships. Jam, PCC’s summer bridge program, is now almost entirely facilitated by former Pathways students who have succeeded in their math and English courses, participated in the college’s tutor training program, and volunteered for the Pathways’s peer tutoring program, Conexion. These tutors, who look, talk and dress just like the incoming cohort of students, have extraordinary influence on the new students: they went through the program, have succeeded academically, and can serve as excellent role models. Over the years, they have been empowered to directly influence the summer program curriculum and activities. The Jam faculty lead has reduced the role of the teachers in the program while increasing that of the student tutors. This not only saves the college money, but also allows the tutors to develop their leadership skills.

Video Presentation on PCC Pathways

PCC Pathways Website
To learn more, please see the below contact information:
Brock Klein
Associate Dean, Pathways
Pasadena City College

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 9th, 2015 at 1:54 pm