Early Implementation
& Future Vision

In June 2016, Greater Texas Foundation made a grant of $249,032 to support the planning phase of the Texas Pathways Project. Pathways addresses every facet of GTF's mission to ensure that Texas students are prepared for, access, persist in, and complete post-secondary education. The project supports community colleges across the state in building partnerships with school districts and four-year institutions and revising their policies, programs, and practices to ensure student success. The following Texas Pathways update is provided by Texas Success Center Executive Director, Dr. Cynthia Ferrell.

Texas Pathways is fundamentally grounded in solving systemic educational problems impeding student success, namely the incoherent and misaligned structures that result in far too few Texans with earned credentials leading toward meaningful careers. It is a bold strategy, informed by lessons from more than a decade of student success initiatives, sound educational theory, and emerging research, designed to broadly impact the attainment of postsecondary credentials and reform educational systems statewide.

To support this statewide systemic transformation, the Texas Pathways strategy cultivates strong leaders from urban and rural colleges of various sizes and student populations, then prepares them to partner with their local high schools and four-year institutions to design guided pathways that help students choose a path, prepare for postsecondary education, make smooth transitions between institutions, and complete a program of study. Based on the American Association of Community College (AACC) Pathways Model, the Texas Pathways Model’s primary goal is to support community colleges’ alignment of programs and services across the educational continuum to provide students with a clear path as they connect, enter, progress and succeed. 

The Texas Pathways Model:
Industry partners
  8th grade - HS Graduation

On-Ramps – Gateway Courses Structured Programs of Study – Productive Persistence
Efficient Transfer
Associates Degrees
Meaningful Jobs

The Texas Pathways Model is an integrated, system-wide approach to student success based on intentionally designed, coherent and structured educational experiences that guide each student effectively and efficiently from the selection of their high school degree program (HB5 endorsements in five academic/career areas) to postsecondary entry through to attainment of high-quality credentials and careers with value in the labor market. Texas Pathways is a six-year statewide strategy that will support all 50 Texas community college districts through a multi-tiered system divided into two phases: (1) a Planning and Capacity Building phase, currently underway, and (2) the upcoming five-year Implementation phase.

Phase 1: Planning and Capacity Building

During the planning phase, the Texas Success Center designed resources to support all 50 community college districts based on the colleges’ readiness capacities. These resources were designed for four unique cadres of colleges, grouped according to their readiness to implement Texas Pathways. 

Cadre 1 – Implementing Guided Pathways at Scale

Cadre 2 – Building Key Pathways Readiness Capacities

Cadre 3 – Building Pathways Data Capacities

Cadre 4 - Building the Case and Foundational Readiness for Pathways

To assess colleges’ readiness to implement, the Texas Success Center first designed a Pathways Readiness Assessment, based on the AACC assessment augmented with the Texas context. This Readiness Assessment was one element of a rigorous application process that was developed to identify the colleges’ readiness capacities and aid in the selection of cadre participation.  

Using the Readiness Assessment and Application materials, 12 colleges with demonstrated significant commitment to transformational pathways work at scale and strong partnerships with public school and four-year institutional partners were invited to participate in Cadre 1. Adding to the four colleges that had already been selected for full and accelerated implementation through the AACC national application process, a total of 16 Texas community colleges have made this heavy-lift commitment. Based on their readiness and identified needs for support, a total of 38 of the 50 community college districts, serving 86 percent of all Texas community college students, have committed to one of the four Texas Pathways cadres.

At the heart of the strategy is a series of six Texas Pathways Institutes. During the planning phase, cadre-specific resources, tools, and curriculum were built to support each cadre and orchestrate Pathways discussions and actions targeting transformational change before, during, and after the Institutes. All materials, advanced work, Institute notebooks, and follow-ups on commitments to action were created for Institutes One and Two as well as materials for the Board of Trustees Institute, which is designed to ensure that trustees are equipped and ready to enable institutional change. This year, the Texas Success Center initiated the first round of Pathways Institutes, “Leadership for Transformational Change: Implementing Pathways at Scale” and “Mapping Pathways through the Institution”.

Participant evaluations indicate that these first two institutes were instrumental in giving colleges the support needed to begin successfully initiating their pathways implementation. Institute evaluations showed that participants rated both institutes highly: 92 percent of the first institute participants and 100 percent of the second rated the Institute as either ‘effective’ or ’extremely effective.’ During the first planning year phase, the foundation has been laid for broader implementation. In the second phase, the Texas Success Center will execute the full Texas Pathways Model.   

Phase 2: Statewide Implementation of Texas Pathways

Building on the Planning and Capacity Building of the first 15 months of this six-year strategy and generous funding from Greater Texas Foundation and several other foundations, over the next five years the Texas Success Center will continue creating and implementing two rounds of Pathways Institutes, support regional leadership, lead statewide Board of Trustees Institutes, and conduct knowledge development research.

The Texas Pathways Institute Series. Each institute will focus on a critical aspect of institutional change and pathway design and implementation; each will require advance work by the colleges, and each will result in products developed by the participating college teams, including action plans. At the completion of the first round of six institutes, the next rigorous application process will begin and a new set of Cadre 1 colleges will be selected.  This will allow colleges that have built readiness capacity to “move up” a cadre and begin implementing Guided Pathways at scale, with the assistance of a second round of Institutes and supports.

Strengthening Regional Leadership and Collaboration. From the initial concept, Texas Pathways was structurally designed to build regional Pathways leaders and opportunities for colleges, along with their public school and university partners, to work together on regional Pathways issues, such as transfer, high school college readiness courses, and dual credit. The Texas Success Center, in collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin’s Charles A. Dana Center, will conduct annual regional meetings to support the broad regional approach to sustainable pathways reform.  

Board of Trustees Institutes.
Board engagement in Pathways reform is imperative to initiate and sustain change of this magnitude. The impact of the annual Board of Trustee Institutes in this second phase of Texas Pathways will be extended to include all 50 community colleges. By focusing on evidence-based inquiry and engaging leaders in guided discussions on policy and operations, the Institute aims to promote sustainable institutional change at scale, including pathways policy review, incorporating pathways into institutional visioning and planning, and using disaggregated data demonstrating students’ experiences along the pathway.

Knowledge Development. Given the large scale of Texas community colleges, the strong historical commitment of the colleges to innovation, and the broad diversity of students they serve, the work of Texas Pathways represents an unparalleled opportunity to learn how to implement Pathways in ways that benefit all students. Such learning will also be essential to promote the spread of Texas Pathways reforms, since college educators will want to know if Pathways reforms really can benefit Texas students, and policymakers and private funders will want to know the return on their investment in this reform. Plans for the work of Knowledge Development will be directed by the Texas Success Center with assistance from the Community College Research Center and the newly developing Texas Knowledge Development Steering Committee and Community College Research Fellows.    

This statewide strategy owes tremendous gratitude to Greater Texas Foundation’s board leadership, grounded by the same commitments and vision for building capacity within regions and rural areas for systemic change; narrowing a concentrated focus on students’ transition from 8th grade through postsecondary completion; emphasizing postsecondary preparation, access, persistence and success; and supporting rigor and alignment in math and transfer pathways.