Dr. Paul Jarrell discusses his vision for the future of students at Lane Community College. Jarrell, who spearheaded the implementation of the Oregon Pathways Project, is the new Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs and Chief Academic Officer at LCC. (Photo by Jason Petorak // The Torch.)
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Dr. Paul Jarrell discusses his vision for the future of students at Lane Community College. Jarrell, who spearheaded the implementation of the Oregon Pathways Project, is the new Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs and Chief Academic Officer at LCC. (Photo by Jason Petorak // The Torch.)

Since 2012, Lane Community College has been faced with rapidly declining enrollment and wavering completion rates. Seeking a solution to these problems, LCC has joined the Oregon Pathways Project, a guided program toward increasing graduation and student success rates in community colleges in Oregon.

This project is under the guidance of the Oregon Student Success Center, which supports the state’s 17 community colleges by clarifying student paths to meet student goals. OSSC helps  students choose an educational and career path, making sure that students stay on that track.

Also joining the project are Chemeketa Community College, Clackamas Community College, Rogue Community College and Southwestern Oregon Community College.

Elizabeth Cox Brand, the executive director of the OSSC, explained the specifics of what these guided pathways would look like at LCC and the other community colleges in the cohort.

With the Oregon Pathways Project, she said, LCC will have new students pick from a selection of general areas of study, such as healthcare or manufacturing, rather than have students choose from over 300 different specific majors. The goal is to have students narrow their focus as they explore career options over time.

The project will also include program-mapping, Brand said. That is, under this guided pathway, when a student chooses a major, they will be given a map of courses, including elective suggestions, to take per term. Students will not be required to follow these maps, she added, but these maps will serve as guideposts toward student end goals. She added that the project will incorporate events during orientations to help students know if they are eligible for financial aid or other benefits.

According to Brand, the Oregon Pathways Project will especially benefit underrepresented students and those who are not ready for college-level work.

“This is just a way to help students become successful and to smooth out the crazy journey we call community college,” she said.

LCC Vice President Paul Jarrell said that he believes that the Oregon Pathways Project will help close the gaps in student success at the college, acknowledging the 50-50 chance that a student will return the following fall term, the decreasing rate of enrollment and the falling completion rates in certain areas of study at LCC.

“Our college is almost designed to fail them.”

– Dr. Paul Jarrell, LCC Vice President

According to enrollment and degree statistics at LCC, enrollment has decreased by 534 students between 2016 and 2017, and by 6,659 students since 2012. Although awards given to students have technically increased overall since 2016, technical awards dropped from 1,038 to 816 and Associate of Science awards dropped from 87 to zero by 2017.

Jarrell focused on the need to view the higher education system from the perspective of the student.

“LCC’s system was designed for students of privilege, high educational background and knowledge of college education,” Jarrell said, regretting that the college was not created with the majority of students in mind.

“Our college is almost designed to fail them.”

The vice president also said that the Oregon Pathways Project will help the college have an open conversation about how to best serve and invest in current LCC students. Those who run the college must be open to constructive criticism during these dialogues, he said.

“Shame on us as an institution if we’re not willing to have a conversation.”

According to Brand, each of the five colleges under the Oregon Pathway Project will go through a training period for two years, ending in November of 2019. According to the OSCC, participating colleges are likely to turn around slumping enrollment and graduation rates within a decade.