Considering guided pathways? Conduct a tech audit first.
- Business process redesign and systems integration come first
- Institutions must determine what they have versus what’s needed
- Make sure the technology can address the problem at hand
An expert explains why a technology audit and gap analysis are critical first steps.
The guided pathways model is the talk of higher ed. Built on student-centered practices like clearly defined programs, enhanced advising, consistent progress tracking, and early intervention, the pathways model requires comprehensive preparation that spans departments.
Ellucian spoke with Gretchen Schmidt, executive director of the Pathways Project at the American Association of Community Colleges, to talk about the role of technology in pathways implementation—how it can help, how institutions should evaluate their existing holdings, and how they can make the most of what they have.
Q: What tech-related challenges do institutions need to address when implementing a guided pathways model?
A: I think institutional leaders immediately gravitate to technology, rather than people, as the solution because it seems easier, quicker, and more efficient. But it’s about changing the student-facing experience at the institution. It’s a human endeavor first.
This work rises and falls on the hard, unsexy work of business-process redesign and systems integration. It means people adapting to the change and rethinking systems and structures. That hard work has to be done in order for this transformational change at the institution level to be fully implemented and sustained.
Colleges are getting the cart before the horse in a lot of ways. A number of institutions that I've worked with have purchased different technology solutions without first understanding where the gaps in their existing systems were; or without knowing what the student-facing and advisor-facing or stakeholder-facing information needed to be; or without ensuring that the technology that they were purchasing actually fills the gaps that exist—not what their perceived gap is.
You need to have a business process to implement new technology in order for it to work right.
But I think that institutions are getting better at thinking through what they have, what it does, what it doesn't do, what it could do that they don't have turned on, or don't have fully implemented, or don't have the most updated version of—before they go out and purchase additional software.
Q: How can institutions use their existing technology better? What processes should they be adding or improving?
A: IT departments need to have an audit to know what tools they have; what they’re paying for; what is possible with the systems they have but haven’t implemented; what functionality would be added with an upgrade to their existing systems.
Many institutions don't know this. They know what systems they have, but the gap analysis needs to be a collaboration among the IT staff and the academic and student-services folks. “This is what version of the system you have. This is what you have turned on. This is what you don't have turned on. This is what you're using at maximum capacity. This is what you're using at minimal capacity. This is a new upgrade with a functionality that will come. Is this what you need for your students?”
We have to push the existing systems to do as much as they can, in the most efficient way. When, if we need something else to fill the gap that the current systems don't provide, then we have to figure out how the systems talk to each other and build it into the implementation process.
Q: How have you seen institutions effectively use their SISs to achieve guided pathways reforms?
A: Fundamentally, this is about students being on academic plans, and advisors and students being able to access the academic plan to see the student’s progress toward their academic goals, what they have left to take, and when it is being offered. Students and advisors also need to know that when students make decisions that take them off-plan, there's a trigger and intervention. Students often do not understand the implications of dropping out, stopping out, or taking courses that are not applicable to their plans. Whatever decision that's going to put them off their plan—students and advisors should know that and discuss the implications.
Our students are adults. They can make informed decisions. But very often, students make decisions without understanding fully the implications—whether it's time-to-degree, costs of divergence, or implications for their Title IV eligibility. There's a widespread set of implications for students that they don't always fully understand, and we don't always communicate to them in a timely way so that they can make choices to help them get back on track.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for institutions on how they can and should use their ERPs and/or SISs to prepare and implement?
A: My ongoing speech is unwavering, and it is: "Do not buy anything until you figure out what you want a system to do, and you do a gap analysis about what you have, and what it is doing, and what it could do. You need to know what the gaps in your system are first and then make sure that the technology can actually solve the problem you're trying to solve."
Has your institution conducted a technology audit? If so, please share your experience below.
Looking for more information on guided pathways? Visit our guided pathways resource page to learn the jargon, gauge your institutional readiness, and more.