Higher Learning Commission

Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Project

South Mountain Community College

Overview of the Quality Initiative

1. Brief Description

SMCC’s Quality Initiative project, Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Project, is intended to create clear program pathways and a strategic schedule that allows our students to complete programs that meet their academic and occupational goals within two and a half years.  SMCC began the Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Project in Fall 2015.  Our ambitious goal is to complete the project during the Quality Initiative period.

Sufficiency of the Initiative's Scope and Significance

2. Relevance and Significance

South Mountain Community College (SMCC) educates minds, transforms lives, touches hearts, and builds community. SMCC's mission is to provide quality higher education for our diverse community by creating a caring teaching and learning environment that fosters student development and supports productive citizenship. Located in Southern Phoenix, South Mountain Community College (SMCC) is a two-year public institution. It is one of ten separately accredited colleges comprising the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD), one of the largest community college systems in the country.  SMCC is the only post-secondary institution in Phoenix that is designated as both a Minority Institution and a Hispanic Serving Institution. Below is a snapshot of SMCC’s student demographic data in 2014.

SouthMountainCC Fig1

The college has become a leader in providing effective programs for students who typically would not participate in post-secondary education. SMCC offers Associate Degrees in Arts (AA), Associate Degrees in Science (AS), Associate Degrees in Business (ABUS), Associate Degrees in Applied Sciences (AAS), and Arizona General Education Curriculum (AGEC) Degrees, as well as Certificates of Completion in specialized occupational areas. The college curriculum includes developmental and college transfer general education courses, computer studies courses, and a limited number of courses and/or certificate programs for specialized occupations.

This Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Project intends to build on the effective programs currently offered to students and the best practices outlined in higher education literature:

  • The College Board’s “Coming to Our Senses” 2008 report challenged institutions of higher education to increase transfer and degree attainment by “develop(ing) programs of study at community colleges that enable students to transfer with junior standing to four-year institutions.”

  • Additionally, both the College Board and the National Institutes of Health endorse the “Seven Point Dropout Prevention Plan” developed by The Education Trust as a way of increasing minority student college completion rates. Key points in the Plan include addressing “’choke points’ in curricula and offerings” and examining first year courses to ensure that students make it past year one.

  • As part of its multistate alliance to increase college graduation rates, Complete College America has developed a “Five Point Game Changer Plan” based on best practices in higher education. There are several elements of the plan that have been shown to be highly successful and will be incorporated into the SMCC Quality Initiative Project, including the plan’s focus on guided pathways to success and structured schedules that facilitate persistence and completion.

  • Finally, the American Association of Community Colleges’ 2015 Pathway Project is a recent venture that validates SMCC’s Quality Initiative focus on guided pathways and scheduling: The project is a collaboration of national partners and 30 community colleges who are committed “to design and implement clear, structured student pathways to high quality credentials that are aligned to both university transfer and to jobs with value in the labor market.” The goal of the project is large-scale redesign of programs and support services to support student persistence, completion, and success. This goal is the work of the SMCC Quality Initiative.

An additional element that will be incorporated into this project comes from one of SMCC’s sister colleges in the Maricopa Community College District. In 2013 Glendale Community College (GCC) was faced with the possibility of canceling classes that had healthy enrollments because the college had an instructional deficit of $3,000,000. As a result, the college developed a scheduling model that linked to their instructional budget. After implementation, GCC reduced their instructional budget deficit by $2,000,000, reduced course cancellations by 44%, and began to offer a class schedule with 86% course capacity across the college. The model relies on several factors:

  • Utilizing current labor markets, unemployment rates and past FTSE (full-time student equivalents) to project future enrollment
  • Giving departments a target number of sections they can offer, which is calculated based on course cost and past departmental FTSE rates
  • Creating a course analytics dashboard that includes “live” course capacity data
  • Relying on a course cancelation chart that incorporates enrollment, cost per student, instructor load, and the number of credits to determine if a course is canceled or not.

SMCC has been working toward improving and streamlining the academic scheduling process since 2013. In 2013 SMCC’s Academic Division participated in a college-wide Educational LEAN project. The objective of the project was to analyze the schedule production process. It was determined that historically, SMCC’s class schedule was rolled over from term to term, the Academic Divisions rarely collaborated outside of their division, and that the current process of schedule creation was hindering students from completing a degree in two years. As a result of these findings the following changes were made to the academic scheduling process:

  • The college increased the emphasis on utilizing data during the production of the schedule
  • Each Academic Division/Department/Program was assigned specific classroom space and/or facilities in order to use meeting spaces optimally
  • Predetermined and fixed class meeting and start times were established in order to align course offerings and minimize scheduling conflicts across divisions
  • Consistent meeting patterns for the semester (16, 10, 8, and/or 5 week courses) were created to minimize impact on student financial aid
  • A communication and collaboration plan with the Student Affairs Division was established to help students plan and implement their course schedule and academic plan

SMCC’s Quality Initiative project is designed to capitalize on national research into best practices, exemplary District level scheduling models, and our local Educational LEAN efforts. We will streamline college scheduling practices and create guided pathways that support student success, persistence and completion.

3. Intended Impact

The Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Project addresses some of the unique opportunities presented when working with a student population that is largely underrepresented minority and first generation college students. First, many of SMCC’s students struggle to persist. In 2013 the year to year persistence rate was 45% for all students. Similarly, the fall to spring persistence rates were 65.8% and the spring to fall persistence dropped to 47.5% for all students.

SouthMountainCC Fig2

Next, the college has experienced a decline in the number of degrees and certificates awarded to the students despite increasing success rates for the both academic and occupational courses. See table below.

SouthMountainCC Fig3

SMCC also has an opportunity to increase the number of students who are college ready. Currently 63% of SMCC students require at least one developmental education course. In order to address this challenge, the college established the Foundations Academy in 2011. The Foundations Academy is a unique learning environment designed to support students who place into developmental education courses. The Academy offers a variety of preparatory course options, including 1-credit writing lab classes, 8-week intensive classes, and 16-week “fast-track” developmental classes in which students are paired with 16-week college-level courses. The Foundations Academy relies on a team of faculty, administrators, and student services staff to coordinate the curriculum and activities for the students. This Quality Initiative project will help to further support the persistence and completion of those students who most need a pathway to success.

The graph below summarizes the current state/opportunities at SMCC and how the Quality Initiative project will apply the best practices previously described in order to better serve students and the community:

SouthMountainCC Fig4

Clarity of the Initiative's Purpose

4. Purpose and Goals

In line with these identified current best practices, SMCC’s values, and the diverse community SMCC serves, our Quality Initiative project is to create a guided pathway and schedule that allows our students to complete programs that meet their academic and occupational goals within their community in a short amount of time. The table below outlines in more specific detail the goals and expected outcomes of the project.


Goal Deliverable Expected Outcome
Create a pathway for students to complete their degree or transfer in 2 ½ years or less
  • Develop a pathway for students to complete the AGEC in 2 years
  • Develop a pathway for developmental students to begin the AGEC in 1 year or less
  • Pilot a guaranteed schedule for a cohort of AGEC-A students
  • Generate an online portal that captures degree and certificate pathways and links to the class schedules
  • Create a process that serves as the template for developing guaranteed schedules for other programs, certificates, and degrees
  • Increase student success, persistence and completion
    • Increase the number of developmental students who begin their AGEC pathway in 1 year or less
    • Increase student success and completion in AGEC A pathway
    • Increase Fall to Spring and Next Term persistence rates for student completing the AGEC-A
Create a pathway for students to complete their occupational certificate
  • Create formal occupational certificate pathways for certificate programs
  • Pilot a guaranteed schedule for a cohort of Networking Administration (Cisco) certificate seeking students
  • Pilot a guaranteed schedule for a cohort of Education: Early Learning and Development certificate seeking students
  • Generate an online portal that captures degree and certificate pathways and links to the class schedules
  • Increase student success, persistence and completion
  • Increase Fall to Spring and Next Term persistence rates for student completing the Networking Administration (Cisco) certificate
  • Increase Fall to Spring and Next Term persistence rates for student completing the Education: Early Learning and Development certificate
  • Increase connections to the community
Create a scheduling process that integrates budget indicators and student/faculty needs
  • Use data to project future FTSE
  • Calculate target number of sections for each academic department
  • Create a course analytics dashboard
  • Create a course cancelation chart
  • Build a class schedule with scaffolded yearly overall college course capacity rate (75%-year 1, 80%-year 2, and 85%-year 3)
  • Revamp the scheduling process to increase student success, persistence and completion by:
    • Strategically offering courses based on student needs
    • Reducing class cancelations by 50%
    • Reducing the instructional deficit by 10%


This Quality Initiative project seeks to modify the way in which the academic schedule is developed, structured and disseminated to students. The expected outcomes of this project are to increase 1. student success, persistence and completion and 2. connections to the community. The goals developed for each outcome are as follows:

  1. Increase student success, persistence and completion - Several of the goals of the project are expected to augment SMCC's current enrollment, student success and persistence. As previously stated, SMCC services a non-traditional student population. In order to address the needs of this population of students, the Quality Initiative project strives to develop a guided pathway for students to complete the AGEC in 2-2 1/2 years. One of the challenges faced at SMCC is the low persistence rates of students. Currently only 65.6% of SMCC's students persist from the fall to the spring semester. This creates uncertainty in scheduling: In the process of developing the schedule of courses, Division Chairs must negotiate with the administration in order to keep low enrollment classes open. This results in an unpredictable schedule for students, as more than 31% of the courses scheduled are canceled annually. SMCC's Quality Initiative project will revise the scheduling process to better align it with the institution’s budget. Aligning the schedule with the institutional budget will provide a mechanism for creating a guaranteed schedule and minimize the number of classes canceled (and eliminate much of the need for Division Chair negotiations entirely). This will allow our students to enroll in classes they need and be guaranteed that those classes will be offered for them at SMCC. Another goal that is expected to increase the success and persistence of students is to generate an online portal that captures degree and certificate guided pathways and links to the class schedules. The portal will serve as a warehouse for SMCC's program pathways. Students can click on a program pathway and be directed to a course map that is then linked directly to the class schedule.

  2. Connections to the community- As demonstrated by SMCC's mission and values, community connections are integral to the college fabric. Last year SMCC's academic division was realigned to include an Occupational division. Every occupational certificate offered at SMCC is connected to an external community advisory board that helps direct and advise the program. Currently SMCC occupational advisers use self-developed guidelines to help students determine appropriate course selections for occupational program completion. Including these guidelines in the new portal will formalize and make available to all students and SMCC advisers these occupational certificate guided pathways. It is important that SMCC include Occupational Guided Pathways on the portal developed as part of this project to strengthen our connections to the local community.

5. Assessment of Progress

There are three major components of the proposal, and we will measure our progress toward goals and the impact of the project for each component: 

Goal Process Assessment / Revision
Create a pathway for students to complete their degree or transfer in 2 ½ years or less 1.  The developmental program at SMCC is “piloting” a guided pathway designed specifically to support the retention and completion of developmental students and ensure their timely completion of classes. 1. We will track the number of students who participate in the pilot pathway and follow their enrollment, retention, and completion of courses, comparing the results with baseline data about overall developmental student retention and completion We will hold focus groups and surveys about successful collaboration strategies, lessons learned about scheduling requirements, what works and what needs revision with respect to student participation and success.
2. We will design an AGEC-A pathway in Spring 2016 for pilot in Spring 2017.

2a. After the AGEC-A pilot in Spring 2017 is completed and enrollment numbers are in for Fall 2017, we will analyze the enrollment, retention, and success of students who participated in the AGEC A scheduling pilot to identify success and opportunities.

2b. We will do the same analysis in Spring 2018 and again in Fall 2018, collecting enrollment, success, and completion data and adjusting the pathway schedules according to the data collected.

3. Following analysis of data and revision based on the results, we will create guided pathways for our remaining two AGEC programs, AGEC B and AGEC S. 3. We will implement the two guided pathways for AGEC B and AGEC S in Spring 2019. As part of our regular assessment, we will monitor enrollment, success and completion data and revise pathways accordingly.

4. Finally, our goal is to create a schedule pathway program that is independent of any one individual or group on campus, so that loss of one person or team does not make creating a new pathway difficult.  By the end of this project, Spring 2019, we should have templates in place that will capture the most successful strategies and practices that new faculty or programs can use to create academic pathways to support student success.

4. We will recruit faculty from certificate and disciplinary programs to create pathways using the templates, and improve the templates based on our participants’ feedback and success in creating pathways.

Create a pathway for students to complete their occupational certificate

As part of our Quality Initiative, we will institutionalize for two programs guided pathways and incorporate those pathways into the online scheduling portal.

  • Networking, Administration, and Cisco
  • Education: Early Learning and Development
We will evaluate the success of these pathways by comparing student enrollment and success data with baseline data from academic year 2012-2014.
Create a scheduling process that integrates budget indicators and student/faculty needs
  • In the Fall 2015 semester our task force began exploring models for such online systems from Pima Community College District and from our sister MCCD institution, Glendale Community College.
  • Our goal is to begin development of such systems in Spring 2016, and to pilot use of those systems no later than Fall 2017.
  • We will collect data about student enrollment, course offerings and cancellations, and course completion numbers to assess the effectiveness of the portal.
  • We will collect feedback about using the portal from students, advisors, and faculty through surveys and focus groups and use that data to improve the system.

6, 7 and 8. Evidence of Commitment to and Capacity for Accomplishing the Initiative

The Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Project at SMCC has campus-wide support and commitment. The QI Initiative was the result of a semester long exploration into possible projects, with participation from all employee groups and student representatives. The QI Chairs held informational meetings, brainstorm sessions, and focus groups with all of the employee groups and a student cohort in Spring 2015. The Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Project was selected via vote by faculty and staff and then went through the Shared Governance Model at SMCC, with the ultimate recommendation to the College President that we pursue this project.

Upon the College President’s approval of the Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Project, we created a task force to develop and implement the project, and that task force has representation from all employee groups that will be essential to the project’s successful completion. Our QI Strategic Scheduling Task Force includes:

  • Chief Academic Administratorwill support guaranteed schedules and flexible enrollment requirements during our pilot semesters. He will help to identify, recruit, and assign duties to those individuals essential for this project.

  • Academic Division Chairswill represent their respective faculty, identify and select courses for scheduling, and provide enrollment and completion data for courses to help determine future semester scheduling

  • Coordinators of Advising and of Enrollment and of Occupational Programs—will identify the courses students will need to complete their AGEC requirements / Occupational programs and how to disseminate and advise students of their options

  • College Curriculum and Scheduling Specialists—will make creation and publication of the schedule a reality and mesh the goals of the Initiative with the reality of our college systems and processes

  • Institutional Research and Planning personnel—will collect and report the data needed to assess and improve the Initiative

  • IT Administrator / team and Institutional Research Administrator / support team—will develop and monitor the online scheduling portal

  • Student Representatives—will provide insight during creation and implementation of the guided pathways and feedback about the completed pathways and schedules

  • Quality Initiative Chairs—will develop, coordinate, and report on the Initiative for and to the College community. The QI Chairs are also members of the President’s Community Advisory Council in order to report to our local community members and receive their support and ideas for the project.

9. Appropriateness of the Timeline for the Initiative



Actions Item

Completion Date or Target Completion Date

Fall 2014

• Introduce HLC Quality Initiative (QI) to Campus

May 2014

• Recruit QI Chair(s)

May 2014

• Conduct campus focus groups to brainstorm potential QI projects

Sep–Nov 2015

Spring 2015

• Focus Groups narrow selection of QI projects

Feb 2015

• Present QI options to Shared Governance

Mar 2015

• Selection and Announcement of SMCC QI Project: Strategic Scheduling

Apr 2015

Fall 2015   

 • Recruit Strategic Scheduling Task Force

 Aug 2015

 • Identify Goals and Process for Strategic Scheduling

Oct 2015 

 • Submit SMCC QI Project to HLC

Dec 2015 

Spring 2016

 • Pilot Developmental “Guided Program of Study” Pathways

 Jan 2016

• Create AGEC A Guided Pathways

Feb 2016

• Create Cisco/Education Occupational Guided Pathways

Feb 2016

• Infuse budget indicators into scheduling process

Apr 2016

Fall 2016

• Review Data from Developmental pilot

Aug 2016

• Refine Spring 2017 pilots as indicated

Oct 2016

• Develop online portal for strategic scheduling

Dec 2016

Spring 2017

• Pilot AGEC A and Occupational Cisco and Education Guided Pathways


• Pilot Online Portal for Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Project

Jan 2017

• Pilot using budget indicators for scheduling process

Jan 2017

Fall 2017

• Collect and review data on AGEC/Occupational/Developmental pilots


• Continue Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Project Data Collection

Dec 2017

• Develop a template for generating a Guided Pathway (AGEC B and S, additional Occupational programs)

Spring 2018

• Revise AGEC A Guided Pathway using data


• Revise Occupational Cisco and Education Guided Pathways using data


• Revise Online Portal using data


• Draft HLC Quality Initiative Report

Jan 2018

Fall 2018 • Continue Guided Pathways and Strategic Scheduling Implementation and Data Collection Continuous

• Submit HLC Quality Initiative Report

 August 2018





Institution Contacts

Matilda Chavez, Interim Vice President of Learning

Yvette Espinosa, Residential Faculty

Camille Newton, Residential Faculty

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