Guided Pathways Resources

Begin with these six resources.

Learn practical and actionable methods to implement guided pathways.

  • Understand what it means to have the end in mind.

  • Understand how organize and manage the work.

  • Understand how to ensure relentless clarity to move the work.

Inspire your colleagues and give them the necessary nuts-and-bolts information to move beyond talk and into action.

1. Learn how to operationalize career & academic pathways.


2. Learn how to organize and project manage the guided pathways work.


3. Learn how to re-engage educators on where the college stands in the guided pathways and equity work.


4. Gain more clarity about Dr. Al's inquiry & action teams and evolving case management teams.


5. Learn how effective leaders leverage a student journey framework such as guided pathways.


6. Learn key takeaways from research on guided pathways since Redesigning America's Community Colleges.


Case Study: How to Implement Guided Pathways

Learn the critical components that allowed Santa Barbara City College to implement Guided Pathways with equity intentionality. The images and phenomenal work are all courtesy of faculty and Guided Pathways Coordinator, Margaret Prothero.

Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) summarizes all of the meaningful work by using the Guided Pathways four pillars. At SBCC, there are 20+ projects and process improvements happening at any given time. 

However, like the Disney Cinderella Castle, the Guided Pathways work may look "pretty" on the outside as shown in the previous image, but it takes a ton of work to make things happen at the happiest place on earth. Same thing goes for Guided Pathways implementation. Again, implementation. Not planning. Not talking. Actual DOING.

Underneath the castle there's a vast system in place to make the park come alive--everything from where characters travel to different parts of the park to where the trash is taking out so guests can't see it.

The Magic Kingdom Tunnel is how employees collaborate to get the work done.

Looking at the "tunnel" at SBCC, the "how" is composed of three components. 1. Settings; 2. Process & Project Management; 3. External Supports. These are the foundational components I help establish at colleges to help them get results, but this framework for getting things done isn't reliant on me. Any institution can take these components and make them their own. 

A setting is a time and a place for educators to get important work done. Establishing frequent meetings times, guidelines for effective meetings, and agendas ensures that these meetings are not hijacked and/or go into rabbit holes. These settings are highly productive. They don't waste people's time. The three settings include Leadership, Workgroups, and External Support.

Don't create settings that are siloed. The settings are interconnected and interdependent. The overall goal of settings is to achieve what I call the "Three C's": Clarity, Coherence, Consensus. One of the reasons major change efforts fail is because of the lack of relentless clarity. Without clarity, we can't have coherence (how the work interconnects with other facets of the institution). Institutions, in turn, fail to reach genuine consensus. 

Settings need a process. I developed a 6-Step inquiry & action process but colleges don't have to use my process. Use any process, Plan-Do-Check-Act, action research, etc.--but use a process! Without one, teams get lost. As I have stated repeatedly, organic processes are fine, but without some measure of structure and guidance, college teams inevitably become organically lost. Within any process, project management tools MUST be used to ensure productive work, accountability, and support. I developed an action plan tool, but again, colleges don't have to use my tools. Use something to track, monitor, and support the work.

Here's my inquiry and action process. One of my favorite things about the process is that it helps shift people's thinking from external attributions to internal attributions--foundational for meaningful equity work. 

Here's an example project management tool where the Guided Pathways Coordinator lists all of her goals for the year (only 2 are shown, there's more!). Each goal has its own tab with a detailed account of what's been done, what's ongoing, what needs to get done, who does what, when, and how.

This is an action plan example for a career & academic pathway (CAP) workgroup that worked to operationalize their CAP. Notice the attention to one of their equity groups: Latinas. Research shows that Latinas are highly effective at de-escalation and community relations as law enforcement officers. This project aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented students entering the public safety pathway with a specific focus on Latinas. Some people say Guided Pathways isn't equity work. That's a broad, inaccurate statement. Each campus finds a way to infuse the equity work in this student journey framework. There's no universal equity formula. Each campus needs to find its own homegrown equity formula so that it can take root and have a good chance at sustainability. 

External supports can take on a variety of forms. Highly effective external supports tell campus leaders not what they want to hear but what they need to hear. They are unbiased and help teams be more productive. It could be colleagues from another campus or an organization that works with campuses such as one of my favorites, The RP Group. The project management tools are shared with external supports for input. 

I'm the primary external support for SBCC, but again, it can be colleagues or other organizations. The key is to garner an external perspective. 

To summarize, three components serve at the "Magic Kingdom Tunnel" to get the work done. It's worth noting that Guided Pathways is about continuous improvement. It never ends. When the work gets done, we learn, and make the necessary adjustments. The key is to move beyond statements, talk, and planning. 

Now let's unpack one of the many practices within SBCC's four pillars: The Guides Program. 

The student opt-in Guides Program is a project borne from SBCC's embrace of the inquiry & action process. Guides are "mentors" from across the college--from accountants who never worked directly with students to faculty to administrators. 

An effective project management tool, we developed a logic model for the program so that everyone could understand the bigger picture. The logic model action plan has more detailed information, including  disaggregated data.

The program included training for all guides. With so many resources available to students at SBCC, the guides learned where to direct students. It's important to note that guides don't provide services. They direct students to the resources they need.

The guides receive extensive support to be effective. A canvas is dedicated to give them all of the resources they need and to communicate challenges and opportunities. And, of course, they have a highly productive workgroup setting! 

Again, some people say that Guided Pathways isn't equity work. It's an unfortunate statement because it doesn't honor the individuality of each campus and how they leverage a student journey framework to apply equity. Guided Pathways practitioners at SBCC instituted the Guides Program that focuses on the highest disproportionately impacted students. The student cohorts served include:
1: Black, Indigenous, Pacific Islander
2: Latino
3: Latina
4: Veterans
5: Re-enrollment students (students who had dropped out the previous semester)

After only one semester of implementation, there was an overall 11 point retention gain above and beyond the control group. All populations saw gains. Promising is that 100% of Black students were retained after census; 29% for the Black students in the control group. 

Given implementation success, the program will be gradually scaled every semester to include more students. 

As another example of equity intentionality in the Guided Pathways work, learn how a group of SBCC faculty infused equity into their instructional practices

To learn more about the Guided Pathways work at SBCC, listen to the remarkable faculty and Guided Pathways Coordinator, Margaret Prothero, unpack the inquiry & action team work

SBCC derived these principles as they transitioned from extensive talking to extensive action. Guided Pathways CAN be meaningful equity work. It is at SBCC. Transformational work is hard. Culture and a variety of other factors push against it, but it must start by doing the work! Enough talking and endless data analysis. 

Thanks again to Margaret Prothero for her tireless dedication to student success & equity. And a special thanks to SBCC educator, Sara Volle, who helped to create the slides and shepherd the Guides Program.  

All Additional Resources


Community College Research Center

Guided Pathways research and resources.


American Association of Community Colleges

Guided Pathways resource center.


National Center for Inquiry & Improvement

Guided Pathways resources.


The RP Group

Guided Pathways resources.


"Dr. Al's authentic, courageous, and forward-thinking approach is refreshing and is exactly what is needed to meet the moment."

Dr. Julie Asperin Barnes
Chancellor, South OCC District, CA

"Dr. Al encourages our thinking, encourages reflection, and inspires our college teams to reach peak performance."

Dr. Michael Baston
President, Cuyahoga Community College, OH

If you enjoyed this page, visit the Culture Change & Continuous Improvement resource.