Pathways guide students to degrees

photo of a graduate walking across the stageWhen going to college, choosing a program and sticking with it through degree attainment can seem like a tall hill to climb. Some students change their minds about what they want to do because they discover something that interests them along the way in their academic journey. Others find the degree program they chose isn’t a good fit for a variety of reasons, whether the material isn’t clicking or it’s just not what they thought it’d be.

Whatever the case, the U.S. Department of Education found in 2017 that one in three undergraduates changed their major at least once. About one in 10 change their majors more than once. While it’s important to figure out the right path in your education — you don’t want to be stuck doing a job you hate — changing programs can be a detriment to your ability to finish college on time and save money. 

The fact is that a mere 62% of students who start a degree or certificate program in the U.S. finish their program within six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracked first-time college students who enrolled in fall 2015. College dropout rates indicate that nearly 33% of undergraduates do not complete their degree program, according to the Education Data Initiative, with its last update in June 2022.

But don’t worry — your head is in the right place if you’re choosing college. The earnings gap between college graduates and their counterparts without postsecondary degrees is growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that full-time workers ages 22-27 whose highest degree was a bachelor’s degree made $22,000 more in annual median wages compared to workers of the same age with no degree in 2021. By contrast, in 1990, that difference was only about $13,000 between bachelor’s degree holders and non-degree holders.

So, we know it’s important to find the right degree program, but it’s also true we may change our minds about what exactly it is we want to do. That’s why many colleges across the U.S. are implementing an approach called guided pathways to help students obtain the degrees they want in a timely manner.

The idea is that college students are more likely to complete a degree if they have a plan early on and have a clear idea of what must be done to meet their goals. Many schools, however, including community colleges, offer self-service models, where students choose from an abundance of courses, but with no clear model for how to complete a degree program. According to the Community College Research Center, few students in these institutions obtain a credential in two years, and many drop out altogether. 

In a guided pathways model, programs entail a system redesign of the student experience from initial connection to college through to completion, according to the CCRC. Researchers for the organization in 2021 wrote that, “Guided pathways was never about limiting options — it’s about ensuring all students have access to clearly designed programs of study aligned with their interests and aspirations.” 

One college taking the guided pathways approach today is Laramie County Community College, with its campuses in Cheyenne and Laramie. There are eight pathways at LCCC, which allow students to explore different programs within their interests with a low risk of wasting credits or semesters. Related programs are grouped together so students can take courses they know they will need to take in the pathway and have the flexibility to switch to another program within a pathway.

LCCC’s eight pathways are: Agriculture & Equine; Business & Accounting; Communication & Creative Arts; Health Sciences & Wellness; Human & Public Services; Information Technology; Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM); and Trades & Technical Studies.

So, for example, in the Business & Accounting Pathway, there are programs for financial services, entrepreneurship, accounting and more. In the Information Technology (IT) Pathway, there are programs for data analytics, cybersecurity, network administration and more. If you enter a pathway and decide the program you chose initially isn’t a good fit, you have a variety of programs you can move to and likely still stay on track to graduate on time.

For LCCC President Joe Schaffer, it’s all about letting students “explore with purpose.”

“The fundamental tenet of guided pathways is to help students make good choices — still let them choose, but help them make good choices,” he said. “We want to ensure students are getting into programs that lead to a high-value proposition and successful post-secondary outcomes.”

In addition to implementing the Pathways model at LCCC, the College now has Student Success Coaches. Success Coaches at LCCC help students with everything from requesting high school transcripts, helping with career exploration, identifying pathways and programs that align with students’ interests and goals, assisting with registration, advising on study habits, and more. And you don’t have to register for classes to receive help. The moment someone shows interest in LCCC, they can be connected to a Success Coach at no cost.

“We are confident that we set students up for success at LCCC,” said Kari Brown-Herbst, senior vice president for Academic Affairs. “With our Pathways approach and dedicated resources to Pathway communities — including our Pathway Coordinators, Student Success Coaches and Pathway Leadership Teams — students have the tools they need to complete high-value degrees that will lead to a successful transfer or rewarding career. With abundant opportunities for financial assistance and flexible course offerings, a path is set for students to reach their goals.”

Go to to learn more about unlocking the power of inspired learning at LCCC. While there, you can take a career assessment, connect with a Student Success Coach and apply.