How to Build A Program Map That Goes Beyond a Course List

How to Build A Program Map That Goes Beyond a Course List

Program maps should serve as more than just a list of program requirements. Include information such as grade requirements, milestone actions, and career information to help students make informed decisions.

Institutions creating program maps can easily get caught in the trap of providing too little or too much information with the program maps. Including too little information can leave students with just a course list to work from, while including too much can be overwhelming and defeat the purpose of the program map.

Course information should be organized in a strategic and easy to understand way so that each program map provides students with specialized guidance that makes course selection more efficient. To build a purposeful program map that is more than just a list of courses and prepares students for their next step, institutions should implement the four following strategies.

Target the right audience with each program map 

Create clear program maps for students by considering where the student is starting from and what the student’s ultimate educational goal is. Incoming high school students may have different needs than adult learners. Students that intend to transfer have different needs than students intending to complete their program at one institution.  

Transfer students follow a unique journey, one that will likely vary depending on the school and system they are transferring to. Even institutions within the same state — such as California State University and University of California institutions — can have different requirements for transfer students. “[Students] need to start planning from Day 1,” says Marisa Serrano, a transfer resources coordinator from Austin, Texas. She says students often don’t consider their transfer requirements until they are ready to transfer. This can delay students’ transfer process and timely progress towards completion in the long run. 

Note the nuances for each student audience that reference your program maps and edit the maps to better suit the target audience. Alternatively, consider developing several versions of a program map to serve audiences with different needs.

Define program and grade requirements upfront

Support students early in their journey by laying out what is needed for them to achieve success in their chosen program. Early awareness of requirements and recommendations can prevent confusion and delays later on. 

Certain majors, such as nursing, may require a set of prerequisite courses to be taken before students can apply for their chosen program. There may also be grade requirements for these courses. Identify program and grade requirements upfront in each program map. Outside of programs that have a defined set of prerequisites and required grades, list recommended minimum grades in key courses to help students understand how to set themselves up for success. 

Person reading a booklet of requirements

Include milestone actions needed to progress and complete the program 

Program maps are incomplete without a breakdown of course dependencies and key milestones. Note courses that need to be completed in a particular order and clearly lay them out for students. Additionally, highlight any milestone courses or courses that are not frequently offered but are required for the program.

“When students feel like they have so many questions and no easy access to answers, that’s when it gets frustrating,” says Stellic degree management startup founder, Bin Wasi. Consequently, it is vital for institutions to proactively answer student questions that may arise. 

Go beyond course requirements and include milestone reminders, such as when it is an optimal time to meet with an advisor or at what point students should register for graduation.

Highlight job information to help students make informed decisions about program selection 

For the vast majority of students, the ultimate goal of their college education is not just to graduate with their degree, but to find a great job that puts their degree to work. Seek relevant labor market information from sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics or labor market analytics providers like Lightcast (formerly Emsi Burning Glass). Look for occupations that commonly employ individuals with the particular degree as well as the job titles frequently used for those occupations. Consider adding additional information on required skills, typical compensation, and industry intel that is relevant to students. 

Remember to consider working adult learners as you plan your program maps. The career goals and concerns for this group of students may differ than traditional-aged students. Nearly a third of adult learners who responded to a survey by Guild Education reported that their institution had no career initiatives to support them or that they were unaware if any were offered. Consider how prior work experience may translate into academic credit and whether adult learners are looking to advance in their current field or switch careers. 

The Roadmap to Guided Pathways Program Maps

Implementing guided pathways and putting students on the path to program completion is no small feat. Institutions don't have to tackle guided pathways alone though.

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