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Understanding Completion Tracks and College to Career Pathways

by Tom Shaver

Accurately predicting course demand depends on several variables, including understanding an institution’s population of students and whether they are new, continuing, or departing students. Once the number of students in each group can be predicted, course demand can be inferred from the students’ pathway requirements. 

Identifying Completion Tracks

Analyzing these cohorts of students and their course enrollment behavior yields valuable insights into how students are completing their pathway. Some students might complete their pathway entirely in-person at a single campus location, while other students may complete the same pathway by taking in-person and online courses. This creates two separate completion tracks for the same academic program or pathway.  No matter the intention, the result impacts course and program enrollment health. When institutions understand their completion tracks and overall enrollment health, they can balance the tradeoff between choice for students and the financial sustainability of the various academic programs. Healthy enrollment levels in a sustainable array of academic programs lead to healthier enrollment levels in classes, a key driver of financial health. 

Using Data to Implement

Today, many institutions are extending their focus beyond completion to the career opportunities for their students. Similarly, Ad Astra has begun to look at student needs from a more comprehensive lens. What if our understanding of course demand, academic program demand/trends, and the expanding availability of jobs data could be integrated? Further, would synthesizing these insights provide powerful new ways to strategically manage enrollments and academic programs? 

If we knew that there were good jobs available for twice as many students currently graduating in certain programs, how might that shape admissions and advising? Would we create more enrollment capacity for those programs? Would students be more likely to persist if they had a clearer idea of the value of their degree in a job market? Would states be more likely to increase support for institutions that graduate more students in fields most needed for their economic growth? 

Where to Start

For years, the higher education industry has defined the student success lifecycle as the following four phases: access, engagement, progress to completion, and attainment of a good job. If we believe that, we should do everything we can to understand and intentionally manage the multiple college-to-career pathways at each institution. Begin with a comprehensive understanding of your completion tracks and enrollment health. 


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