Dr. Michele Heston, dean of health sciences

AVON PARK, Fla. – May 24, 2021 – South Florida State College (SFSC) has been selected as one of 26 institutions from across the country to participate in the Community College Research Center (CCRC) Summer 2021 Virtual Institute in June and July. The topic that members of the community colleges will discuss is “Guided Pathways at Rural Colleges: Using Data to Launch Large-Scale Reform.”

Davis Jenkins, senior research scholar at CCRC and a research professor in the Education Policy and Social Analysis Department at Teachers College at Columbia University, co-authored “Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success.” Publication of this research stoked the national interest in implementing guided pathways in educational institutions. Jenkins interviewed members of the institutions, including SFSC, that were vying to participate in the CCRC summer 2021 Virtual Institute.

“A guided pathways approach that a college takes on is not an initiative, program, or project,” said Dr. Michele Heston, SFSC dean of health sciences and a member of the College’s team participating in the CCRC Institute. “It’s changing the way we do business. Guided pathways make colleges more student-focused in that we need to provide holistic support measures, making sure the students have a clear pathway that aligns with what they want to do in their educational careers, help them overcome obstacles, and then they’ll be successful at realizing their student success goal.”

“This research project that Davis Jenkins will be conducting with us will address the challenges that institutions face when serving a rural community, because the obstacles are different from urban and suburban colleges,” Dr. Heston said. “He’s said himself that he’s not clear on what those are. That’s why we’re holding this Institute and that’s why we are focusing on rural colleges. Their challenges and obstacles are very different than the colleges he’s written about in his book. He wrote about Miami-Dade College and Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Fla. Those are much larger communities. So, he wants to examine the unique features of colleges in rural communities. Some of them are real benefits–you know your students and you know your colleagues. But in terms of resources, you don’t have whole departments to pull this off. So, you have to do more with less. That’s an obstacle from an institutional perspective. From a student perspective, you may have a limited variety of employers in the community or may need to change the mindset about college. One of the things Davis Jenkins said when we had an interview with him was, ‘You have to change your habits of mind to be more open to how the college experience should help students realize the dreams of their futures instead of doing it lockstep.’”

SFSC will send nine employees from different areas of the College, who will bring their own perspectives on the student experience. Dr. James Hawker, dean of arts and sciences, will serve as team leader from SFSC. “Davis Jenkins was pleased to see that we have, for instance, the Registrar on the team,” said Dr. Heston. “A lot of colleges will do all this fancy stuff and then the Registrar may say, ‘We can’t do that because of legislation.’”

According to the CCRC, during the two-week institute, community college teams will examine data on student enrollment, course taking, and completion by program and discuss the implications of these data for college redesign. Each team will develop a customized plan to engage their college community in conversations about implementing reforms that will help the college recruit and retain students in high-opportunity programs connected to their long-term goals.

“Through the CCRC Virtual Institute, we will gain knowledge from our peers as well as from the work at the CCRC to intentionally drive the work we’re doing at SFSC,” Dr. Heston said. “When you mention guided pathways and Davis Jenkins, they are synonymous. And to have the expertise of his team supporting us is just a phenomenal opportunity to create brighter futures for our students. It will help us develop guided pathways at SFSC in a much more comprehensive way by using this work. SFSC is excited to be selected to participate in this prestigious Institute. The potential impact on our students and the community is profound. I expect that all colleges in the future will be guided pathways colleges.”