For many college freshmen, the transition from high school to college serves as the start of a new chapter in their life. Navigating the difficulties of college can pose an overwhelming threat to their educational career. One program seeks to resolve these issues and create a smoother first-year experience for freshmen.
The Pathways program, created by Brock Klein, aids first time college students by guaranteeing core classes such as math and English, granting access to a Pathways-only learning center, and introducing students to the campus prior to their first semester.
With 15 years of work under its belt, Pathways received its first students in the summer of 2011 for Math Jam, a bridge that reviews mathematical concepts before the rapid pace of the fall semester.
Providing these students with the opportunity to meet instructors and familiarize themselves with the campus layout eases their anxieties as they transition from high school to college.
“I realized that there were a lot of students that needed help adjusting to college life, needed support in their classes, and I felt it was important for the college to pay attention to this particular group of students,” said Klein.
The introduction of Math Jam came from Klein’s research on improving academic success and preventing students from dropping out. As Klein looked at other colleges and universities, he noticed that summer bridges and first year experience programs consistently improved student success.
Pathways generates success among all of its students, who are predominantly from minority backgrounds. Because of the difficulties many minority students face with regards to access to educational resources, the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) in V102 is an exclusive area for Pathways students to receive the assistance they need.
“There are so many factors that contribute to a student’s success, or lack of success in the classroom…socioeconomic factors come into play, family background,” Klein said. “A lot of our students are first-generation college students, so they don’t really have support at home, they don’t have role models within their families to help guide them.”
“So many of us as teachers, individually, think that we’re doing a great job – and we are – but when you look at the college collectively, we see that the completion rates are not high,” he added. “When you look very closely at students of color, you find that it’s particularly problematic…first year students of color [are]…particularly vulnerable.”
Though they face many difficulties, students involved with Pathways overcome their obstacles. Latino students in particular have shown the most improvement out of any other ethnic group.
According to internal data from 2012, Latino students in Pathways completed about 28.6 units in their first year compared to non-Pathways Latino students who averaged around 17.3 units. Overall, Pathways students complete around 32.4 units as freshmen while students not enrolled in Pathways finish about 20.1 units. This is partly because all students in Pathways receive a full time schedule of 12 units or more for both semesters.
“This is a milestone, it’s really important because you can start predicting behavior and ultimate success after 20 and certainly after 30 units in their first year, so they’re much more likely to continue [their education],” Klein noted.
Further success among Latino students can be attributed to the program’s awareness of the diversity of its students.
“We know that students are generally the same, but we also know that different ethnic groups, students from different cultural backgrounds, have different needs, different issues they’re dealing with… and generally, I think Latino students thrive in community settings, working with other people, and what we’ve tried to do is create a family environment – a safe space,” he said.
The TLC, a hub for everything related to Pathways, is the safe space where students are free to ask whatever questions they may have about their courses or other school related issues. A majority of the TLC is dedicated to a computer lab for students to access instead of scrambling to find an open computer elsewhere.
Pathways student Vincent De La Guerra views the TLC as a great space for students to complete their homework and chat with other students. After plans of attending an out of state university fell through, De La Guerra enrolled at PCC solely because Pathways would secure a full time schedule for him. As months pass by, De La Guerra now appreciates the other benefits of Pathways, such as the tutoring services available in the TLC.
“I’ve always struggled in school, I’ve always needed a tutor for math, or just [needed to] figure out my time management,” he said. “I think it’s cool, everyone in Pathways and [those] that hang around the TLC are focused on getting their education.”
Additionally, De La Guerra found Math Jam to be a valuable experience since he felt more comfortable with the campus by the time the fall semester rolled around.
Similarly, Rodolfo Cerda and Fernando Barrera were drawn into the benefits that Pathways provided.
“Pathways is really what made me come to PCC…just someone being [there] to let me know there was support in a community college really influenced me,” said Cerda. “You always hear that in college you’re alone and there’s no one there [for you], but with Pathways, they really lay everything out for you.”
“I found this as a chance to not fall behind,” added Barrera. “If I didn’t have [Pathways], I’d probably be going downhill in my classes.”
Access to the TLC alone made a difference for Barrera, since spending time there discourages slacking off, which he was guilty of throughout high school.
As a whole, Pathways was recognized in 2012 when it was awarded the Chancellor’s Student Success award. The Excelencia in Education organization, a group dedicated to Latino success in higher education, most recently honored Pathways in 2014.