5 Hidden Barriers to Look For When Creating Academic Program Maps
The exercise of creating program maps provides an opportunity for institutions to uncover and address hidden academic barriers. Look out for courses no longer aligned with industry standards, hidden pre-reqs, and courses that don’t meet transfer requirements.
Program maps can drastically improve student and institutional outcomes, as a cohesive academic plan empowers students to stay on track and realize their academic visions. While there are certainly challenges creating program maps, the end value outweighs the work necessary to make them come to fruition.
To create successful, student-centric program maps, institutions should proactively address and call out hidden barriers before they arise. The following five steps help institutions address hidden barriers that may currently exist in their academic offerings.
List only courses that are regularly offered
Program maps and course catalogs can easily become cluttered with courses that are rarely offered or even no longer offered at an institution. This information noise can distract students from pertinent course offerings that are relevant to their educational paths. As one institution in California noted, “The most comprehensive program map in the world is useless if the student can’t follow it.”
Identify these courses and determine if they can be removed entirely. In some cases, the choice to remove will be obvious. For instance, if a course has only been taught by a single professor and that professor is no longer at your institution.
Remove or update courses that no longer align with industry standards
Students’ long-term academic and career success depends on an education that is aligned with their chosen industry. To ensure that your course offerings are current and cohesive, evaluate course offerings through the lens of industry standards. Look for out-of-date courses and remove those that are no longer relevant for the intended career focus. Additionally, consider and adhere to accreditation requirements during this evaluation. Courses that do not meet accreditation requirements need to be removed or updated.
If institutions are unsure of the relevance of a course to a program map, reach out to industry advisors and councils your institution is connected to. If a course should be updated to reflect current industry trends and needs, note this change and possible action steps required to make such an update.
Make hidden pre-reqs visible
Pre-reqs and co-reqs are key foundational pieces to each student’s education. When required classes are not clearly marked and mapped out, students may fail to register for them. This creates delays in future terms when students discover that they cannot register for a class or several classes because of their ineligibility.
To prevent these setbacks, ensure that pre-reqs and co-reqs are made visible to students in your course catalog, program requirements, website, program map materials, and in any other degree or curriculum planning tools they have access to. The goal of this process is to make it essentially impossible for students to miss classes they need to register for.
Highlight double-duty courses in program maps
“The [guided pathways] model calls on institutions to provide students with strong academic advising, early opportunities for career exploration and clear sequences of courses that help students avoid earning unnecessary credits,” according to the higher education editor at EdSurge.
Institutions should clearly indicate courses that count for multiple requirements. This helps ensure students don’t take unnecessary courses and they complete their programs in a timely manner. Any classes that could double as a GE and program requirement should be highlighted in all course catalogs, curriculum materials, and program maps.
Note elective courses that don’t meet transfer requirements
Though all programs should be evaluated for transfer requirements, some will need extra attention in this area. Gather information about students’ intent to transfer to prioritize programs that require such focus. Successful program maps start with, “academic advising that incorporates in-depth conversations about career goals, degree plans, transfer opportunities, and commitments outside of college,” according to the Center for Community College Student Engagement’s 2020 National Report.
Because transfer requirements can vary between state educational systems and institutions, it is important to make note of specific electives based on their unique transferability. Students should be able to easily access information about which elective courses will not count towards their transfer requirements as an institution's failure to note these courses could result in further delays for students.