Nathan Aiken
College Discovery, Bronx Community College

Erica Ingalls
Student Affairs, Front Range Community College

Dan H. Lawrence
Library, Community College of Aurora

Jacquelyn Ray
Library Services, Walla Walla Community College


Guided Pathways is an evidence-based strategy to enhance student success through a more clearly aligned curriculum. It is currently being implemented by community colleges nationwide.  For many institutions who have adopted this model, this can mark a significant change in their programs and departments, including how the institution engages students in the college experience. Reorganizing programs into meta-majors positively impacts student success for students of color. This case was written for courses in higher education leadership and organizational change. It describes a change initiative to launch the Guided Pathways model in a rural community college. It may be particularly useful for students just beginning to familiarize themselves with the change process. The case is pertinent to discussions about leading institutional change. Student discussions can focus on the challenges, strategies, and stages of planned institutional change.

Keywords: change management, community colleges, Guided Pathways, higher education, leadership, meta-majors, organizational culture

Cite As: Aiken, N., Ingalls, E., Lawrence, D. H., & Ray, J. (2021) Modeling planned change in Guided Pathways. Cases on Leadership for Equity and Justice in Higher Education, 2021(3).


The Guided Pathways model has spurred a movement in the community college sector. Implementing Pathways is a whole-college change requiring broad engagement and collaboration (Jenkins et al., 2019). There is evidence of success in improving the student experience but there are still challenges across the sector in engaging staff and faculty (Center for Community College Engagement, 2020). When organizational change becomes necessary, managing it requires planning and implementation designed to minimize employee resistance while trying to maximize the impact of the change effort (Boggs & McPhail, 2016).

The Guided Pathways model has gained significant momentum and is being implemented nationally in the United States across more than 250 community colleges. “A key design principle of guided pathways is that academic programs of study be structured to provide students with guidance and clear routes to completion...meta-majors provide this structure.” (Waugh, 2016, p. 7). Reorganizing programs into meta-majors improves student success by helping them choose a “pathway” early in their academic journey.

The shift to Guided Pathways and meta-majors has been shown to increase retention and other forms of success for community college students (Waugh, 2016, p. 4). While not necessarily reducing equity gaps, the pathways model has also shown to increase the success rates of minoritized students (Bragg et al., 2019). Using the pathways model to improve advising practices and other institutional supports will have a positive impact on the college’s ability to fulfill its mission and serve its diverse community.

An intent of the Pathways initiative is to mitigate barriers for underserved students. However, Bailey asserts:

Guided Pathways involve not just major institutional decisions about policy and practice but (require) fundamental changes in organizational culture. These reforms are enacted on a human level, day in and day out, and it is up to colleges to make sure they work in a way that is consistent with their equity-driven mission, and with the central belief embedded in Guided Pathways—that all students can succeed in the right environment and with the right supports (p.2, n.d.).


Located in a rural location in the Pacific Northwest, Endor Community College (ECC) currently employs 400 faculty and staff and enrolls 3,500 students. Sixty-three percent of students are full-time and 37% are part-time. The current college graduation rate is 20% and year-to-year retention is 56%. The average student age is 22 and the breakdown among racial/ethnic groups is 75% White, 23% Latinx, and 2% in other categories: Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian and Alaskan Native, and Black. With an equal focus on Academic Transfer and Workforce programs, ECC has a total of 110 academic programs and certificates. ECC is a long-standing, integral component of a small community in the Pacific Northwest.

Endor Community College’s mission seeks to “create quality educational opportunities for a diverse community of learners to thrive in an evolving world, and to enhance innovative and engaged learners that enrich our local and global communities.” The college espouses values held by many institutions, including access, continuous improvement, and shared governance. According to the college website, a core value identified by the institution is that work is performed in a collaborative environment that supports open communication and inquiry for faculty, staff, and students. In the past year, partly inspired by the Board of Trustees and ECC’s current enrollment, which positions the college as an emerging Hispanic Serving Institution, the college hired a grant-funded Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer to help the college in this “problematic area.” Faculty, staff, and students expect to have timely access to the support services they need to accomplish their educational and career goals.

In recent years, the college has seen a decrease in revenue due to low enrollment, stagnant or declining completion rates, and a reduction in state funding. The college has drawn heavily on its reserves for the past three years and faces pressure from the Board of Trustees to achieve a balanced budget. This has created newfound urgency in the areas of recruitment and retention in order to remain fiscally sustainable. Guided Pathways, and to some degree, the addition of the DEI officer, are institutional changes that ECC hopes will be part of the “turnaround” that stabilizes student enrollment at the college.


President Paul Sheev is a year into his tenure at ECC, his first college presidency. His predecessor served for nearly 40 years alongside other members of the upper administration. The previous Vice President of Instruction (VPI) served at the college for 38 years. A new VPI was recently hired and, as a cost saving measure, the VP for Student Affairs position has remained unfilled for two years. Due to the existing vacancy and his background in Student Affairs, the President assumed interim direct responsibilities for the Student Affairs Division. Dr. Sheev is ready to steer the college in a new direction by shaking up the status quo of an institution that is highly bureaucratic, used to top-down decision making, and entrenched in a mindset that was comfortable owning the phrase, “that’s our way.”

Pathy Amidala holds a master's degree in curriculum and instruction and was recently promoted to Assistant Director of Student Affairs. Dr. Sheev assigned her to lead the charge in advising activities across the college. Pathy is from the region and began her career at ECC, where she has continued to work for the past 12 years. She is task-oriented and likes to execute her work efficiently to meet set deadlines. Pathy is familiar with the Guided Pathways model but requires convincing that the model will work for ECC.  Her workload has grown due to a hiring freeze in her division, and she feels a little overwhelmed by the multiple projects she is juggling.  Pathy knows she needs to get this project done, as requested by Dr. Sheev, and is committed to completing it on time.

Professor Hannah Solo is invited by Pathy to represent Academic Affairs. She teaches Psychology and has extensive curricular knowledge. Professor Solo has been with the institution for eight years and is well liked by her faculty colleagues. Similar to Pathy, she exhibits consistency in her work and is committed to the institution’s success.

Advisor Jim Qui Gon has worked at ECC for three years and is characterized as student-centered and driven. He is known as the “go-to” within the advising department; students and faculty are confident they can rely on him to provide knowledgeable and helpful information to assist them in advancing their goals. He is a team player and demonstrates immense adaptability while maintaining a positive outlook. He believes students should always be at the center of the work.

Jessica Skywalker has recently started at ECC as the college’s first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer, a position considered long overdue by some. Others were unclear about the reason for the position, thus it was met with wariness. Jessica knows the college has much DEI work to accomplish and she is committed to student success and bringing an equity lens to college initiatives. Her background in equity work, instruction, and assessment is considered a great addition, filling some key experience gaps in the college’s knowledge base, procedures, and policy development.

Case Narrative

Dr. Sheev attended the Achieving the Dream Conference and, like many, was inspired by a presentation on the Pathways model. The presenter highlighted the positive impacts on completion rates over the last three years and noted how the program had helped students of color succeed. While at the conference, Dr. Sheev also connected with leaders of other emerging HSIs and discussed the positive impacts on their Latinx student outcomes. These institutions attributed their success rates to the successful implementation of Pathways. Dr. Sheev also had the opportunity to meet with other college Presidents during one-on-one conversations and continued to hear positive responses when inquiring about this work. He was intrigued.

Dr. Sheev left the presentation and conference excited about what this model could do for ECC. Upon his return, he met with his Cabinet to share what he had learned and received support to move forward with involvement and implementation. He continued to research and read Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success (Bailey et al., 2015) to help him better understand the full scope of Guided Pathways. Dr. Sheev’s excitement continued to grow and he felt an urgency to move the needle on completion rates along with closing equity gaps at his institution. He was also intrigued by the additional grant funding that might be available should he move forward with implementation at his institution. The fiscal motivation was an additional factor encouraging him to move forward with his plan to implement.

Dr. Sheev scheduled a meeting with the Assistant Director of Student Affairs, Pathy, to share what he had learned and to discuss appointing her to the chair role for this first phase of this initiative. He clarified the expectations for her leadership role, and she is formally charged with working alongside faculty to (1) define and name meta-majors, (2) designate academic programs within identified meta-majors, and (3) develop a web page to launch the initiative at the college in-service in September. After a few clarifying questions, Pathy agreed to lead the first phase of this initiative, which is set to start later that spring.

Dr. Sheev introduced the Guided Pathways principles at a spring all-college in-service. He shared how he learned about this program as well as his thoughts on how this model could help shape the future of ECC. The college would join some of their peer institutions by implementing Guided Pathways and Dr. Sheev was enthusiastic about its potential to address the college’s retention issues. He acknowledged that state funding was available to support the institution’s implementation of Guided Pathways. Dr. Sheev ended the presentation by announcing that the Assistant Director of Student Affairs, Pathy, would lead the first phase of this initiative. Jessica Skywalker approached Pathy at the end of in-service and shared overall excitement about this work and that she would like to be actively engaged in the development of this project. Pathy thanked Jessica and said she would definitely be in touch.

Pathy kept her focus on previously-prioritized projects related to successful student transitions to the college until April, at which time she turned her full attention to the Guided Pathways initiative. In late April, she reached out to Professor Solo to see if she would be willing to team up on the Guided Pathways initiative. Professor Solo had helped Pathy on previous projects and knew they had similar work styles and could complete this project effectively and efficiently. Professor Solo committed herself to helping with this project but shared that she could not start until mid-May, at the end of the spring semester, due to existing projects.

The first part of May was mostly spent bringing Professor Solo up to speed on the Guided Pathways model. An opinion survey about meta-majors was sent to faculty in June. Department chairs received a short email asking for a quick description of how they would describe a meta-major. Professor Solo reached out personally to as many faculty as she could, asking them to check their emails while they were off-contract. A note about the meta-major project was included in a monthly school newsletter targeted to internal stakeholders as well as students. Leaning on the network of other institutions implementing Guided Pathways, Pathy and Professor Solo were able to learn from others who had already completed this phase of implementation. They divided the work to develop eight meta-majors, and then identified the programs that fit best under each meta-major using the Guided Pathways network for guidance. They completed their three tasks over the summer and even managed to launch the website in early August.

Pathy scheduled time to meet with DEI Officer, Jessica Skywalker, in late-August to share an update on the work being done. She asked Jessica if she had any thoughts or feedback that should be included at the in-service presentation. Jessica was surprised by this meeting and the progress that had been made, as she had reached out to Pathy multiple times offering to help with providing an equity lens to the Guided Pathways work and had not received a response. Knowing that meta-majors were going to be a highlight of the fall in-service, Jessica was concerned this work was moving forward without enough thought on the impact the initiative would have on ECC’s Latinx population. While she had feedback to offer, she was concerned that the timing would not give her space for adequate input.

In September, during the fall in-service, Dr. Sheev applauded the success of the meta-major implementation. He recognized Pathy and Professor Solo for all of their hard work and publicly praised them for the rapid turnaround. He then jumped ahead to cover the next “exciting” phase of the implementation, which would begin immediately.

After the campus in-service, Dr. Sheev bumped into Jim Qui Gon, a professional student advisor. The two knew each other personally and had a very open and honest relationship. Dr. Sheev asked, “How do you think students will respond to meta-majors?” Expecting a positive response, he was taken aback when Jim shared that they were not planning to use meta-majors in their fall advising. Dr. Sheev learned that there was a lack of understanding and expectations among the advisors. It was not clear to the advisors how to use or explain meta-majors to students. Furthermore, faculty, upon returning to campus from summer break, had not been able to clarify the purpose of meta-majors. The faculty also felt unable to support the professional advisors when they reached out with questions or referrals for assisting students. Jim mentioned that, even though information on meta-majors was published on the website, students and faculty advisors were confused. While they understood this was an initiative the president cared deeply about, they did not have the capacity or preparation to implement this new model to effectively serve students.

When Dr. Sheev got back to his office, he opened up his email and was bombarded with emails from staff and faculty who had concerns about the meta-major model and its implementation.

The first email he opened was from a Geography professor questioning why his academic program fell under the Sciences meta-major instead of Social Sciences. He was extremely concerned and provided multiple bullet points on why Geography should be under the Natural & Physical Sciences meta-major.

The second email was from the Director of Admissions and Records wondering when she could expect to receive marketing materials for her recruiters to present to the local high schools at their outreach events scheduled for the following week.

The third email was from the President of the Faculty Senate. She had received multiple concerns from faculty since the conclusion of the in-service meeting.  Faculty were demanding more information on meta-majors and training on how to advise students in this new model.

Dr. Sheev was stunned by the hailstorm of negative and confused feedback to what he thought was a transformative initiative. Unfortunately, he had little time to process as he was set to prepare for that evening’s Guided Pathways update to the Board of Trustees, who were eager to hear about his progress.

Teaching Notes

This case was written for courses in higher education leadership and organizational change. It describes a change initiative to launch the Guided Pathways model in a rural community college. It may be particularly useful for students just beginning to familiarize themselves with the change process. The case is pertinent to discussions about leading institutional change. Student discussions can focus on the challenges, strategies, and stages of planned institutional change.

Models for Planned Change

Scientific management, which centers on leadership, may be a useful frame for exploring change at Endor Community College, particularly because the organization has a strong bureaucratic culture with top-down decision making. Scientific management theories assume there is a great deal of agency among the agents of change (Kezar, 2013). Current theories speak to the value of collaboration, professional development, and the ability of change agents to identify the need for change. The limitations of scientific management theories are the overestimation of the role of leadership by those in traditional roles of positional power and authority, and the underestimation of the impacts of barriers and obstacles from the external environment as well as internal political dynamics (Kezar, 2013).

Scientific management focuses on several models of change, including planned change. While a discussion of the pros and cons of planned versus emergent approaches to change management is beyond the scope of this case, we recommend a planned approach for analysis of the change at Endor Community College. A planned approach assumes phases of change and a planned process to move between those phases rather than the bottom-up learning process of an emergent approach (Burnes, 1996). Two possible models for examining a change initiative might be useful for students to discuss the case.

Change as Three Steps

Kurt Lewin’s “Change as Three Steps” (CATS) model can be practical and useful for analyzing the change process at Endor Community College. Planning for permanency of change must be included in a change objectives (Lewin, 1947). Lewin wrote that you must “unfreeze” a group from its current situation, “move” to the next level of change, then “freeze” the group standards. Over time, change management literature came to refer to this as “unfreeze, change, refreeze” and, while criticized as overly simplistic, is still useful and forms the basis of many discussions and models of change (Crosby, 2021; Cummings et al., 2016)

Citing Curry (1992), Kezar outlines a three-stage change institutionalization framework, in which the goal of a change is to make it become part of the day-to-day operations (Kezar, 2013), as follows:

  1. Mobilization: In this first stage, the organization prepares for change through raising awareness of a problem, mobilizing, raising consciousness for change, and laying the foundation for a change.
  2. Implementation: In this second stage, the change is introduced and the organization creates the infrastructure and support to maintain momentum by creating incentives and opportunities for involvement.
  3. Institutionalization: In this final stage, the system is stabilized, and the change becomes part of normal operating procedures through a focus on building cultural consensus on the value and meaning of the change.

Kotter’s Eight-Step Model for Change

While planning real change may not be as straightforward as the model, Kurt Kotter’s eight-step model for change is another useful tool for examining the case (Kotter, 1995). Over the past several decades, the model has evolved slightly to include the following eight stages (Kotter Incorporated, n.d.):

  1. Create a sense of urgency. Focus on getting people motivated to change by creating a sense that they must act now.
  2. Build a guiding coalition. Identify key leaders in the organization to serve as ambassadors for change.
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives. Focus on creating the specific actions and initiatives that will need to be communicated to the whole group.
  4. Enlist a volunteer army. Focus on building excitement by communicating the plan and gaining broad buy-in.
  5. Enable action by removing barriers. Focus on removing barriers that can impede progress, such as inefficient processes or outdated norms.
  6. Generate short-term wins. Focus on communicating points of progress that will keep people motivated.
  7. Sustain acceleration. Focus on maintaining momentum and repeated wins until the vision is realized.
  8. Institute change. Focus on communicating the connections between the change and the organization's success in order to ensure it is accepted and viewed as an opportunity.

Student Activities

Initial Analysis/Paired Discussion

After reading the case, students can work in pairs to discuss Dr. Sheev’s approach to implementing change at Endor Community College. Guiding questions can include: How would you characterize the issue(s) that emerged through the change process? What could Dr. Sheev have done to provide better support to the initiative he assigned to Pathy Amidala? Who should share in the responsibility of communicating the need for change, and why?

Guiding Questions for a Whole Class Discussion

How would you create urgency for the adoption of meta-majors? Who should have been involved in the change initiative? Whose responsibility was it to create a vision for change? How could communication for the change have been improved?

Writing Assignment

Looking at the larger picture of this scenario, if you were Dr. Sheev, excited about implementing Guided Pathways, how could you move to support adoption of Guided Pathways at Endor Community College in a way that would (a) anticipate and possibly prevent some of the underlying issues that may undermine the process of change (e.g., lack of buy-in, delays in communication, resistance to change, lack of understanding about meta-majors), and (b) sustain the changes?

Partner Activities

Students should first have familiarity with Kotter’s Eight-Step Model of change. A cursory overview is available in a free eBook at . Ask students to respond to one of the following questions:

  1. Describe at least two leadership actions that Dr. Sheev could take to mobilize the change to Guided Pathways at Endor Community College.
  2. Put yourself in Dr. Sheev’s position. Given the work the committee has already done and the obvious pushback by advising staff and faculty, what would you tell the Board of Trustees about your next steps in realizing and institutionalizing the change to Guided Pathways meta-majors?


Bailey, T.R. (n.d.). Equity and Guided Pathways: Which practices help, which hurt, and what we don’t know.

Bailey, T. R., Smith, J. S., & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America's community colleges: A clearer path to student success. Harvard University Press.

Boggs, G. R., & McPhail, C. J. (2016). Practical leadership in community colleges: Navigating today’s challenges. John Wiley & Sons.

Bragg, D. D., Wetzstein, L., & Bauman, K. (2019, September). Integrating racial equity into guided pathways. Community College Research Initiatives.

Burnes, B. (1996). No such thing as … a “one best way” to manage organizational change. Management Decision, 34(10), 11–18.

Center for Community College Engagement. (2020). Building momentum: Using Guided Pathways to redesign the student experience.

Crosby, G. (2021). Planned change: Why Kurt Lewin’s social science is still best practice for business results, change management, and human progress. CRC Press.

Cummings, S., Bridgman, T., & Brown, K. G. (2016). Unfreezing change as three steps: Rethinking Kurt Lewin’s legacy for change management. Human Relations, 69(1), 33–60.

Curry, B. K. (1992). Instituting enduring innovations: Achieving continuity of change in higher education. George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Jenkins, D., Lahr, H., Brown, A. E., & Mazzariello, A. (2019, September). Redesigning your college through Guided Pathways: Lessons on managing whole-college reform from the AACC Pathways Project. Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Kezar, A. (2013). How colleges change: Understanding, leading, and enacting change. Routledge.

Kotter Incorporated. (n.d.). The 8-Step process for leading change. Kotter.

Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 59–67.

Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in group dynamics: Concept, method and reality in social science; social equilibria and social change. Human Relations, 1(1), 5–41.

Waugh, A. (2016, July 07). Meta-majors and essential first step to college completion. JFF.

About the Authors

Nathan Aiken

Nathan Aiken, MA, is a doctoral student in the Leadership for Education Equity program at the University of Colorado, Denver. His research focuses on supporting students who have previously been incarcerated. He also works as an academic counselor in the City University of New York's educational opportunity program, College Discovery.

Erica Ingalls

Erica Ingalls serves as the Dean of Student Affairs for Front Range Community College-Westminster Campus. She is pursuing her Doctorate of Education in Leadership for Educational Equity in Higher Education and is passionate about making a difference in the work that she does for students, families, and communities.

Dan H. Lawrence, MA, MLIS is the Director of Library Services at the Community College of Aurora and a doctoral student in Leadership for Educational Equity in Higher Education at the University of Colorado, Denver. His research interests include Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) identity, assessment, and organizational planning and effectiveness.

Jacquelyn Ray, MLIS, MA is the Director of Library Services at Walla Walla Community College and a doctoral candidate in the Leadership for Educational Equity in Higher Education program at the University of Colorado Denver. Her research interests are in organizational metacognition, "unlearning", and critical hope as avenues for institutional capacity building for equity.