Getting to class on time and learning new subject matter didn’t faze Joyce a bit when she enrolled at Broward College. After all, she was used to challenges, having worked part-time through high school to help her struggling family make ends meet.

But, finding the right information about financial aid and whether her credits would count toward a degree at a four-year university was a different story. Like many students who are the first in their families to attend college, Joyce didn’t understand the system and didn’t know what would be her best options.

Broward College studentsJoyce isn’t lost anymore. That’s because, since 2016, she and other incoming students at Broward College are required to participate in a program called “Career Pathways.” By simplifying their choices, administrators believe more students will move through these clearer ‘pathways to complete degrees or certificate programs or transfer to four-year colleges or universities at a faster pace.

Jeffrey Nasse, interim senior associate vice president for academic affairs, said the ambitious effort guides students from the moment they step on campus through every aspect of the academic experience, from enrollment to graduation and, ultimately, job placement.

“Allowing students to pick and choose from a ‘buffet line’ of disconnected courses, programs, and support services can be a bit overwhelming,” said Nasse. “Without the right kind of guidance, it’s easy for students to make poor decisions and find themselves suddenly academically off-track.”

Instead, Broward College students now select from one of eight “career pathways”:

Within these pathways are road maps, which cover show all the subjects needed for potential majors, course sequences, and career information including potential earnings. Students who are not sure of a pathway can take a career assessment to help in their decision-making. Each pathway is monitored by faculty and staff advisors who collaborate to keep students from wandering off course.

By ensuring that they are taking the right classes within a pathway, a student who might have spent the past two semesters pursuing a nursing degree — but has a change of heart at the first sight of blood – can still apply credits earned to a new major within Health Sciences without wasting valuable time, money and financial-aid dollars.

For students who have the financial means, excess credits might not be such a big deal. But, to many students at Broward College who are carrying a full course load while working part-time or commuting one-hour each way by bus to campus, bad advice can be a barrier to graduation, according to Esmerelda Sweeney, associate vice president, student success.

“We’re very passionate about our students,” said Sweeney, who was instrumental in crafting the Pathways program and securing funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for Broward College to implement the three-year pilot project. “We want to see them succeed.”

National studies report that fewer than 40 percent of community college students earn a certificate or degree within six years of enrollment. But, thanks to the more structured programming and mandatory academic advisement, completion rates at Broward College are on the rise and at least 10 percent above the national average for comparable institutions of higher education.

“We want students to feel like they are learning and receiving the type of quality education that will translate into career opportunities and a better life,” said Nasse. “Pathways is not a silver bullet, yet. But, we’re getting there.”