Guided Pathways and the Enrollment Center

The changes that will be implemented into advising are working to fix past mistakes.

Glendale Community College Advising is taking a hard look at and taking advice from the Chancellor. In 2018, the Chancellor of the Maricopa Community College made the decision to switch how colleges do advising on campus. Since the summer of 2017, GCC has been implementing the new stepping stone for more accurate advising.

Guided Pathways is the transition that Maricopa Community Colleges are taking to make degree programs universal among the district, smoother and systematic advising and increase enrollment numbers. All of the degree programs will be mapped out, making the transferring profess to universities less complicated. It will create a clear path for students to know what classes to take in order to transfer to the university of their dreams. All of the degree programs will be identical district wide, which means that students will no longer need to repeat classes when transferring to another college within the district.

Advising at GCC and every other Maricopa Community College will resemble the type of advising that most universities and several other colleges already have adopted. Each adviser will be assigned a list of students based on their major. These advisers will only stick to information about a specific major, making the advising process more organized and convenient for students.

“What students consistently say over and over again is they want their own adviser and they want to be advised by someone who specializes in an area of study,” said Advising Director Christine Neill.

Neill has been working at Glendale Community College since July of 2018. Since then, she has made improvements in how the Enrollment Center is running. She implemented appointment times into the average workday for the advisers.

From 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the advisers will assist with walk-in students that want to enroll or have questions. After 11:30 a.m., students must make an appointment and that is how they will be seen.

Neill says the new system has shown an improvement in wait times and has been a more organized style of seeing students. In the past, many students would have to wait for more than two hours to see an adviser. During peak enrollment times, which would happen usually in the harsh 120-degree weather of July, the unlucky souls that were enrolling for classes would stand in a long line stretching outside of the Enrollment Center.

Another addition is the introduction of iPads at the welcome desk. Neill says this has also reduced wait times. Many of the authority figures of the department that have been working with advising and Guided Pathways are new to the mess at GCC and have been working towards changes.

For years, many people on campus have claimed that advising at GCC had too many serious faults. The all-to-familiar stories of students being put on the wrong degree path, being told to take classes that were unnecessary and having to wait an unbelievable amount of time to be seen are what Neill and her team are working to fix.

Since the district has called for a change in advising district wide, they have provided the Enrollment Center with funding to hire analysts to organize Guided Pathways and make sure it is working. Currently, there is a significant lack in advisers in the industry. According to National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, for a college and university to advise properly while taking into consideration the well being of the students and the employees, there should be at least one advisor per 350 students. For GCC to follow the standards that NCII has listed, GCC would need between 52 to 54 advisers, however GCC only has 29 advisers that can serve students, and not all of them are full-time or working in the Enrollment Center.

“The thing is the way the system was set up was setting us up to fail as advisers in the first place. Its just not realistic when you have a 1 to 1,200 ratio and you’re supposed to know everything about everything,” Neill said.

Not to mention in the past, the advisers were enduring long hours with little training. Sudesh Udyavar has been an adviser for GCC since 2006. Udyavar said that when he first started the job the training entailed shadowing other advisers for a couple days. After the shadow days were finished, the new adviser was immediately thrown into the work.

He admitted that it can be very intimidating and difficult to remember all the knowledge at first. Udyavar believes that the training new advisers must participate in is more extensive and helpful than when he first started. Despite this, the training is mostly centered around shadowing, which Vice President Monica Castaneda says she believes should not be the primary way to train the advisers.

This will be a new way that Guided Pathways will improve advising at GCC, the advisers will have to go through training and will be specialized in a particular field.

Along with the bad training, Udyavar and many of the other advisors have been deprived of feedback from students on how to improve or what they are excelling at. In the 13 years that Udyavar has worked in the Enrollment Center, says he has only received 6 negative comments towards his advising, which seems unlikely if he was given such poor training.

“Personally, I would like to know what I did right and what I did wrong. How can I get better? I think there is always room for improvement,” Udyavar said.

Monica Castaneda believes that students are afraid to come forward with the negative information that they have about advisers. In the past there have been comment cards that were offered at the front desk. Students could also comment back to their advisers via email.

However, there have been mixed messages among the advisers on whether the comment cards are still in use, and there is often little feedback that comes back to the advisers.

Udyavar agrees that he believes students are afraid to speak up and feels that a lot of it is intimidation. Another adviser, Jessica Dickison, also contributed some of her opinions. Dickison claims that she has never been given feedback as far as her advising ability.

“I’ve never been evaluated for that [advising ability]. I don’t even know if there is an evaluation process,” Dickison said. Dickison has heard the negative comments towards advising in the Enrollment Center, however she has mainly learned of it through gossip from students and faculty rather than statements. She was aware of comment cards being circulated in the past but thought they had been discontinued since.

There are other initiatives that the Enrollment Center has taken to find student opinions on advising. Last fall, Yolanda Espinoza hosted a meeting. Several students attended and gave input on how they would like to see change. There have also been other studies that have been done to collect data in regard to advising in the Enrollment Center, such as SENSE, the Noel Levitz Study, and EAB Secret Shoppers. However, out of the three only one of the studies focuses on the advising process rather than the low enrollment that has been impacting GCC and other community colleges.

Finally, the Enrollment Center will be sending out QLess Surveys for students to take to critique advising at GCC. Neill says she is also planning to hold focus groups focusing on GCC led by students sometime during the summer after the district wide focus groups have ended.

Dickison, along with the other advisers that were interviewed for this article, loves her job. She said, however, that there is not enough time for advisers to learn new information or commit to meetings that have to do with Guided Pathways. Every Friday between 8-9 a.m. the Enrollment Center shuts down for an hour and faculty come and inform the advisers about new additions to programs offered at the school. It is a form of training for advisers and new learning tool.

Dickison says there are other opportunities that are missed. Most of the advisers are too busy to attend any of the Guided Pathways meetings or the student activities that occur throughout campus. These meetings and events are beneficial to advisers and their work.

The overworked and busy schedule that advisers are forced into can also keep them misinformed about events that are occurring at the district level. This is often how students are placed on the wrong track Dickison claimed, the adviser is unaware of the best track for the student, or the student is not paying attention to the information being given to them.

Sometimes, the district keeps the advisers out of the loop Dickison says. She gives the example of the change that took effect recently with finances that required students to pay when they signed up for classes.

“We were not aware about the financial change in policy until it took effect,” Dickison said.

These are repeated instances that the new forms of authority in the department are trying to combat. The Dean of Enrollment Services Yolanda Espinoza said they are hiring new part-time employees so that full time advisers have more time to attend the meetings and learn the new information about Guided Pathways.

“Guided Pathways is a continuous improvement model. We will definitely be able to meet some milestones, use the principles of guided pathways. We will be able to demonstrate we’ve done it but it will always be evolving,” Espinoza said.

Guided Pathways still has a long way to go, they have recently received the model for advising.