• The Story of Completion by Design

    Colleges and universities nationwide are acutely focused on increasing student success—measured not only by the completion of valuable credentials, but also as preparation for long, productive and rewarding careers in a rapidly changing economy. Many institutions have implemented innovative programs for specific cohorts of students; few have tackled large scale improvements or the organizational and cultural change that is required to sustain them.


    Completion by Design has a simple, pioneering vision: community college faculty, staff, administrators and students, working collaboratively, can create integrated institutional policies, practices, processes and culture that together improve student performance and completion outcomes. 

    Four years ago, nine colleges in three states— with very different sizes and contexts—set out to increase student success and completion by knocking down the barriers that stop students at each stage of their journey to credential completion. They came together under the umbrella of Completion by Design (CBD) in a structured process to transform students’ experience—and ultimate success—at their colleges. 

    CBD is one of only a few successful examples of large scale systemic reform of the student experience. Moving the needle on student completion requires comprehensive, integrated and practical approaches that stand the test of time. This is what CBD offered. The colleges wanted to leverage past successes and learning, but they also wanted to build additional strength and capability to improve student outcomes. CBD’s inclusive vision, structured processes and focus on shared learning provides the framework to accomplish these goals.


    Completion by Design embarked upon a course to increase student success and completion by knocking down the barriers stopping students at each stage of their journey from high school through college completion.
    To start on this journey, colleges collected information in the PLANNING PHASE. In this initial phase, colleges analyze data, prioritize strategies and structure their work in preparation for the implementation phase. Each college designed their new models consistent with the CBD Preventing Loss, Creating Momentum framework. More importantly, each college adapted their work for their own unique environment and needs.  While mostly sequential, this process is not entirely linear. Work may be occurring on multiple steps at once – and may have to be revisited (e.g., by refining your team or your approach over time).

    Step 1: Agreement on Goals and Principles
    Step 2: How to Build and Manage Your Transformation Team
    Step 3: How to Use Data to Diagnose Your Loss and Momentum Points
    Step 4: How to Develop and Prioritize Different Approaches to Your Problems or Opportunities
    Step 5: How to Create an Executionary, Measurable Plan

    Implementing Guided Pathways

    Over the past four years, CBD colleges have aligned policies, programs and practices to create Guided Pathways that support students to be more successful. This is a bold, innovative and aggressive approach to student success because it requires total institutional alignment of people, structures and culture.  The CBD colleges are making significant progress in their assault on the very complex completion problem.

    The CBD colleges are excited to share even more broadly what they’ve learned.  That’s why this document was created—a tool for faculty and staff who will do the hard work to design, implement and sustain Guided Pathways at their colleges. As a whole, this Guided Pathways toolkit describes:
    ⦁    how the colleges organized to do the work
    ⦁    what they’ve accomplished to date 
    ⦁    how they determine what’s working—and use that information to make it better
    ⦁    what they’ve learned that will help other colleges; and 
    ⦁    what they’re still struggling with today.

    How CBD Colleges Approached the Work focuses on how the CBD colleges structured and organized their work. 
    Real Stories from CBD Colleges provides a window into the unique experiences of the colleges, where they started, what they did and—most importantly—what they learned as they developed their Guided Pathways. 
    Lessons for Other Colleges lays out key takeaways that other colleges committed to sustainable change can apply to their work. It also provides a framework to assess institutional readiness for developing Guided Pathways.  
    Resources provides contact information and tells you where to find supplemental materials that could be helpful on your journey to developing Guided Pathways.

    We will continue to add sections to this toolkit over time. We hope our stories and insights are useful to other college practitioners, and welcome dialogue with other colleges to learn more about what they are doing. 

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