I often hear this question from community college reformers engaged in guided pathways inquiry or design: what are the "key lessons" or "best practices" in creating meta majors. I am writing my observations so far, so that I can see your reactions and additional thoughts.
Lesson 1. Developing meta majors is an iterative process (and specifically meta majors should be revised once program maps have been drafted)
Many colleges start their Guided Pathways design work with creating meta majors. This has the advantage of making course sequencing easier, especially in thinking through courses that are shared among a meta major. Conversely, some colleges find it useful to being with sequencing of courses (program maps). For example, Mesa Community College in Arizona and Miami Dade College in Florida created meta majors after making good progress in mapping out and revising their sequence of courses to degrees and certificates. In conversation with Mesa Community College, faculty and administrative leads said it was helpful to first intentionally think about degrees and certificates and the competencies required for each one, because thinking about shared competencies would make the clustering of credentials easier. Yet other colleges have found that it is helpful to begin the design work wherever there is already energy and a possibility for early wins and momentum.
An observation from several participants in the CCCO’s “advanced” workshop on GP was that it was important to see the process of creating meta-majors and course-sequencing as interdependent and iterative; colleges could start with course sequencing or meta major development, but once they had made some progress in one area, they needed to go back and revise the meta majors and course sequences accordingly.
Lesson 2. Student input is essential for creating meta majors
Colleges that have asked students to cluster programs of study into meta majors and have also asked students’ input in naming the clusters have found that students produce grouping and names that are more informative to other students. Some colleges have asked both students and a cross disciplinary team of instructional and counseling faculty to group meta majors and name them and have compared the results. One finding is that it is common for college professionals to create meta majors that reflect the existing departments/divisions which are not necessarily intuitive to students or share similar competencies.
Lesson 3. How meta majors are created has important ramifications for equity in student outcomes
In some colleges, the meta major creation re-enforces the existing units and “divisions.” For example, some colleges create a separate meta majors for programs that tend to offer short-term certificates and are “Career and Technical Education.” This can result in students being tracked to short term versus programs early on. A more equitable approach is to make sure each meta major has credentials of different lengths and career options. In other words, meta majors can introduce students to a variety of disciplines, and credential of different lengths with transfer options—all of which share certain competencies. For this to happen, it is important to resist the pattern of developing meta majors in the silos of CTE/non-CTE or in divisions, but rather bring cross disciplinary and cross functional teams together early on to discuss meta majors and shared competencies among programs.
Lesson 4. It is important to embed opportunities for career exploration in every meta major
In a series of focus groups, students told us that in order to choose a major, they needed to learn about different careers and that the different majors could lead to. Some colleges have included foundation courses in each meta major that can help students learn about the different careers and the competencies necessary for those careers. For example at LaGuardia Community College in New York, every meta major has a foundation course taught by a faculty member in the discipline who mentors students in researching different careers. In this course, students also interview or shadow individuals in a particular field, to get a taste of the different competencies within each major while honing their research skills.
What do you think? Do you have similar, or different lessons from your work at/ or with colleges engaged in Guided Pathways design?
Other resources that include information on Meta Major development: