Last year, the UNM-Taos leadership team began reading "Redesigning America’s Community Colleges," and campus directors led their teams down similar paths sparking new conversations. The initial information has provided a new way of thinking about how UNM-Taos serves students and has laid the foundation for the new chancellor, Mary Gutierrez.

The redesign is informed by the Guided Pathways framework, which focuses on helping students explore, enter and complete programs of study that are aligned with transfer opportunities and good jobs. The idea also contains a best practices plan for what colleges should do to best serve students. It’s a framework that aims to simplify a student’s academic journey by providing informed choices, personalized support and clear learning outcomes, which will help more students achieve their college goals in less time. To help plan and implement Guided Pathways reforms, a 14-member team, made up of UNM-Taos staff and faculty, has been accepted to partake in a Community College Research Center (CCRC) Guided Pathways Summer Institute session in June.

Some federal Hispanic-Serving Institution grants have allowed UNM-Taos to pilot and implement various best practices from the Guided Pathways framework. The college considers these strategies as important commitments to students and has begun to see positive shifts in student outcomes. However, the approach has not been holistic and systematic as a strategic campus-wide college redesign.

Gutierrez said it's essential to know that clear, accessible certificate and degree pathways are an important part of increasing completion.

“The goal of our participation in the summer institute is to examine our data closely and determine crucial next steps for our pathways,” she said.

CCRC, at Columbia University Teachers College, spearheaded research regarding the use of Guided Pathways in an effort to help students complete programs faster. Through their research, CCRC found that “students are more likely to complete a degree in a timely fashion if they choose a program and develop an academic plan early on, have a clear road map of the courses they need to take to complete a credential, and receive guidance and support to help them stay on plan.”

UNM-Taos data reflects national trends regarding student certificate and degree attainment. Therefore, Gutierrez says she sees the Guided Pathways model as a positive means to positive ends.

“When we look at student persistence term-to-term, the rate of certificate and degree completion, and the number of accumulated credits that are in excess of the units required for certificates, degrees or transfer, it is clear that we can do better,” she said. “UNM-Taos can benefit from understanding and applying the research that CCRC has done to understand what colleges and universities can do to increase rates of timely completion and to promote equity in those rates.”

During the CCRC Summer Institute, the team will learn how to develop, incorporate and follow a comprehensive approach to reform using the Guided Pathways model.

“My first desired outcome is that we — myself, our faculty, and staff — embrace responsibility for our student outcomes, and drawing on the research, begin to think critically about what we can change about the educational experience to produce better outcomes,” Gutierrez said. “Our ultimate desired outcome is to see more students achieve their educational goals in a timely manner.”