Santa Monica College (SMC) staff members and volunteers assist students during this year's VIP Welcome Day on Friday, August 23, 2019 in the SMC quad in Santa Monica, Calif. During the October 1 Board of Trustees meeting, members of the Guided Pathways redesign team presented the Board with an update of the implementation of the Pathways framework. Among their success were the new Areas of Interest.. (Clyde Bates Jr. / The Corsair)

Martha Ramirez

SMDP / SMC Corsair staff writer

Santa Monica College is redesigning student support services to increase the number of individuals that complete educational programs within self-defined deadlines.

The efforts, specifically the college’s Pathways program, are part of an ongoing desire by the school to help more students graduate on time and to provide additional aid to students who have been underserved by the existing education system.

A 2018 document outlining the need for the program said that although SMC boasts numerous academic achievements, most students do not achieve their self-defined goals. Less than 20 percent of SMC students earn a degree, certificate, or transfer to a four-year institution within three years of first attending college. Furthermore, it said black and Latinx students achieve their goals at less than half of the rate of white students.

At the October SMC Board meeting, trustees heard plans to redesign the program. The main goals of the redesign are to reduce or eliminate equity gaps, reduce the time that it takes for students to complete their educational goals, and increase the rates of completion overall.

“The goal of achieving equity has always been the driving force behind the redesign,” Maria Muñoz, faculty co-lead of the redesign team, stressed.

New students will be assigned a “Student Care Team” consisting of an academic counselor, a career counselor, a faculty advisor, a financial aid specialist, and a peer navigator. Beginning in the Fall 2020 semester, all black and Latinx first-time college students will have access to a Student Care Team.

Although Pathways representatives acknowledged there are some major setbacks in implementing Pathways – most notably the lack of comprehensive, student-facing technology needed for students to achieve their goals — they were still able to discuss some of their achievements.

“We discussed using inquiry-based research to inform equity-based decision making as a means to develop solutions that will best benefit, particularly, our most marginalized students,” said Black Collegians Program Leader, Sherri Bradford.

One of the major changes that Pathways will implement are Program Maps. According to the report, all instructional programs, including degrees, certificates, and preparation for transfer, will have “an adaptable program map with on and off ramps.”

Faculty co-lead Guido del Piccolo said the so-called mapping days were some of the team’s biggest achievements.

“Here,” del Piccolo said, “we brought together teams of instructional faculty in a program, a counselor, a curriculum committee representative, and a student. These teams develop the most efficient and effective course sequence based on the students’ end-goal.” Thus far, there have been five different mapping days, which have resulted in 90 programs being mapped.

According to the report, first-time college students will identify an Area of Interest at the time of their application and will “select an Academic and Career Path by the end of their first academic year.”

“We have seven Areas of Interest, which contain related academic and career paths,” Pathways project manager Irena Zugic said. These areas are: Arts, Media, and Entertainment; Business; Culture, History, and Languages; Education; Health and Wellness; People and Society; and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

SMC is also offering workshops called “College to Career: Uncover Your Strategy for Choosing a Major and Career Pathway.”

“Each week, there’s at least one of these workshops offered on a variety of days and times throughout the semester,” Bradford said. The 75-minute workshops are meant to help guide students in making decisions on which major to choose.

“In order to reach our students before they even get here, there’s an offering of a Counseling 12 course, the Career Counseling class, for our high school students at SaMo High School. This one is a particularly popular course, and it was completely full this semester, with the hope of expanding this offering in the future,” Bradford said.

“There is much work, as you know, still to be done. Times have changed, and so must we,” Muñoz said.

Del Piccolo added, “Times have changed, but by and large, we engage in teaching, learning, counseling, providing services, and trying to meet student needs much the same way we have in the past 30 plus years. The time to fundamentally change business as usual is overdue. To meet the equity goals that we have adopted, we must comprehensively redesign Santa Monica College.”

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