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Redesigning America's Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success

reviewed by Thomas D. Cox & Laurie O. Campbell - September 08, 2015

coverTitle: Redesigning America's Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success
Author(s): Thomas R. Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars, & Davis Jenkins
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 0674368282, Pages: 304, Year: 2015
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Community Colleges enroll approximately eight million students annually. Yet, the academic success of these students as determined by the completion of a four year degree is limited. A longitudinal examination of data beginning with students’ initial enrollment demonstrated that of the 7.2 million students who first indicated their goal was to earn a four year bachelor’s degree, six years later, less than three million students did. According to the research and experience of Thomas R. Bailey, Shanna Smith Jaggars and Davis Jenkins, authors of the book Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success, this lack of student success may be attributed to the organizational structure of traditional community colleges.

Throughout the book, the authors compare and contrast two community college models: the cafeteria model (status quo) and guided pathways model. First, within the cafeteria model, students are left to navigate which classes to take and when with minimal guidance or guidelines. Often the consequences of students’ decisions contribute to delays in completing a degree due to missed classes as a result of their self-service career guidance and planning. Redesigning America’s Community Colleges’ premise states that the current cafeteria-style community college model needs a redesign in order for students to finish community college quickly and efficiently. The authors’ proposed overhaul would encompass student registration through graduation for the purpose of providing students not only access to higher learning but ensuring completion and academic success.

Redesigning America’s Community Colleges provides a framework and strategies for reforming cafeteria model community colleges to guided pathways colleges. The introductory chapter establishes the history of community colleges and includes information related to funding and legislation. Chapter One establishes the need for the guided pathways model and introduces the concept of program mapping. Chapter Two discusses the cafeteria and guided pathways models in light of student services, registration, and progress monitoring. Chapter Three considers instruction and plans for providing content that is coherent and relevant to the course of study.  Chapters Four and Five focus on stakeholders including underserved students and the role of college faculty and staff in providing support.  Chapter Six includes the cost and economic considerations of the guided pathways model as well as financial projections. The concluding chapter provides concrete example of students’ viewpoints and experiences in both of these models.  

The blend of research and practical application, the depth and breadth of the authors’ experience, and their passion for community college reform are foundational aspects that contribute to the significance of the book. The authors’ 60 years of collective experience teaching and researching community colleges contributes to the rich descriptions, observations and examples throughout the book. The authors’ assert that current initiatives, innovations, and programs at community colleges do not yield the desired outcomes of more students graduating in shorter periods of time. These outcome deficits seem to influence the sense of urgency indicated by the authors to consider adopting the guided pathways model for long term reform in community colleges.

Not only does the authors’ experience contribute to the text but their candor and straightforward approach adds credibility to the book’s message. For instance, in Chapter Six, the authors acknowledge that the guided pathways plan may increase the per-student-cost for education. Knowing that some may discount an idea that requires added cost, the authors present information and explain the rationale informing their predictions for the long-term consequences of not redesigning community colleges. The authors challenge policymakers to not only raise tuition to cover these increases but also consider other options.  

The authors’ message is clear throughout the book beginning with the names of the two major models discussed. The words “guided pathways” evokes views of walking down a path with arms of encouragement and support upholding the learner. In contrast, the cafeteria model may conjure images of gray beans (no longer green), long lines, and no concept of what is ahead or how to craft a nutritious meal of what can be seen. In this view, self-service and choice do not contribute to an efficient or adequate community college experience.

One criticism of the text includes presenting only two community college models. The authors compel readers to consider their colleges solely in terms of the two models. The classification of community colleges into two broad categories without mentioning other possibilities may cause some readers not to consider the strategies and tips shared throughout the book applicable. Another criticism involves the writing. Sweeping comments are made throughout the book. Observations are generalized to all institutions, yet in reality the comments are only applicable to some. Even though the authors’ candor adds strength to the text it can be viewed as a weakness relative to some general and sweeping comments that may be too broad.

The authors acknowledge that research for the guided pathways model is limited and in its infancy. However, preliminary analysis of data from colleges that have adopted aspects of the guided pathways model holds promise for success. Several of these exemplars are highlighted in the book. The authors recognize the need for rigorous research to determine success, barriers, and provide evidence that would help more community colleges decide to adopt the guided pathways model.

Finally, while most readers of the book will be community college educators and administrators, similar personnel at four-year institutions as well as policymakers would benefit from reading this book to learn more tips and strategies to promote student success. The guided pathways model complemented by high quality curriculum maps, greater course structure, fewer degree choices, and more student support has the potential to reform community colleges while staying true to the commitment of educating all students in the local community at a reasonable cost. Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success is a timely, well-researched book that should be read and discussed in light of the national call for community college reform. The goal of providing students direction and support to efficiently complete community college in a timely and cost effective manner is admirable and evident throughout the book.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 08, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18096, Date Accessed: 11/27/2021 6:47:51 PM

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About the Author
  • Thomas Cox
    University of Central Florida
    E-mail Author
    THOMAS D. COX, EdD, is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Policy Studies at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL. He teaches in and coordinates the M.A. in Community College Education. Previously, he founded the master’s program in adult and higher education at the University of Houston-Victoria, Houston, TX. He has edited a book and co-edited another. Currently, he is active in researching the topics of adult learners within higher education contexts. He is currently the President of the Adult Higher Education Alliance (AHEA), a national organization committed to supporting adult learners within higher education contexts.
  • Laurie Campbell
    University of Central Florida
    E-mail Author
    LAURIO O. CAMPBELL, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Personalized Learning at The University of Central Florida, in Orlando, FL. Previously, she was the director of Undergraduate Teacher education at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. Currently, she is active in researching topics related to personalized learning and technology within varied learning contexts.
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