Pathways to Results (PTR) is aimed at improving student transitions to and through postsecondary education and into employment. It empowers organizations to use methods, templates and tools to continuously improve pathways and programs of study by addressing inequities in student outcomes. Enhanced outcomes for students, programs, organizations, and systems is the ultimate goal of PTR.

Pathways to Results Introductory Video

Goals and History of PTR

Debra Bragg, Gutgsell Endowed Professor and founding director of OCCRL, describes how PTR focuses on access and outcomes of students.


  • Improve career cluster-based Programs of Study planning and implementation using an inquiry- and equity-focused, continuous improvement process.
  • Improve transition outcomes for underserved students, including groups of students who are racially and ethnically diverse, low income, low literacy, and first generation college.
  • Align PTR to public policies dedicated to improving student transition to college and careers, including Carl D. Perkins, NCLB and High Schools that Work (HSTW), Titles I and II of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), Accelerating Opportunities (Jobs for the Future), Shifting Gears (Joyce Foundation), and other initiatives.
  • Improve access of PTR teams to data and tools that support evidence-based decision making and continuous improvement.


Pathways to Results (PTR) emerged as a method to improve Programs of Study in the state of Illinois, but it can be applied to any program and process that seeks to improve outcomes and performance. OCCRL’s development of PTR has benefited from the generous support of the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB). Insights from leaders of the University of Southern California’s Center on Urban Education (CUE), specifically the Equity Scorecard™ and the Benchmarking Equity and Student Success Tool™, have been instrumental to PTR’s development, which began in 2009 with six pilot sites.

To date, PTR has involved a total of 66 projects involving nearly all community colleges and most secondary districts in Illinois. Trade Adjustment Act Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) consortia that are partnering with OCCRL as third-party evaluator are implementing PTR as well. Further, OCCRL is integrating PTR into the Transformative Change Inititative, which is a new initiative that seeks to scale pathway and program of study innovations nationwide. In all these ways, PTR helps practitioners to understand obstacles to student success (from the students’ perspective) so breakthroughs can happen. Bottom line:  Adoption of equity-minded practices is key to raising performance.

PTR is aligned with Illinois’ Program of Study Initiative, which follows six guiding principles created by practitioners across the site, with guidance and support from the OCCRL, the ICCB, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and the Illinois Center for Specialized Professional Support (ICSPS) at Illinois State University. To read more about Programs of Study, its six principles, or find resources for Programs of Study, please follow the links provided.

Current Topics

  • Redesigning the Nursing Curriculum to Make an Impact on Student Learning

    Over a year ago now, the Nursing program at Illinois Central College decided to use the Pathways to Results methodology to tackle their state-mandated program review process. Working through the PTR process revealed some interesting findings that produced the following initial goals.

    Findings and Goals:

    1. Program information on the Nursing pathway could be marketed more effectively and consistently.  Identified Goal: Leverage partnerships and update resources to assist students in preparation for the program and combat misperceptions. 
    2. Student “intent” as recorded in our data systems may not be accurate. Identified Goal: Address the issue of intent in advising sessions with all students to improve our data and then track the data to improve retention and completions.
    3. Students are starting programs with less required general education courses completed. Identified Goal: analyze why less General Education classes are being completed.
    4. Fewer qualified students may be applying to nursing programs. Identified Goal: recruit more qualified students and adapt to emerging criteria in the workforce.

    At first glance you can see evidence of the deficit mindset within the stated problems and goals. A deficit mindset is the tendency to explain equity gaps solely as a result of student deficits, rather than what institutional agents can do to better support student success.  We began with the initial assumption that declining exam performance may have been a result of declining quality amongst our student cohorts. As the data was more closely analyzed from the PTR outcomes-focused equity lens; we began to see that our efforts to improve these outcomes would be better focused on faculty development and reworking the program curriculum to really target the types of skills and learning students needed to be successful both on their final exams and as healthcare professionals.

    Together, the faculty decided that the best way to move from students’ current outcomes to reaching desired outcomes was to transform the Nursing curriculum and pedagogy completely based on a “concept-based curriculum” framework. Under this framework, which can be applied in many different fields, nursing instruction moves from the current “medical model” where students learn about one medical area or body system at a time, to a concept-based model where students’ knowledge is integrated and applied to better align with students’ needs for critical thinking, problem solving, and rapid response in patient care. A core group of faculty learned about this process when they attended the conference, Implementing and Evaluating the Concept-Based Curriculum 2015.

    Contemplating such a major change in their program, the nursing faculty’s big question was: where should they begin? Working through this planning process and trying to keep the overall goal of improving equitable student success along the way has been the major focus for the entire nursing faculty as they have engaged over the last six months as a PTR Year 2 Implementation team. Today the team is totally immersed in redesigning ICC’s content-driven curriculum into a concept-based curriculum using the ideas and roadmap developed last year.

    Phase I     Mission, framework, student outcomes
    Phase II    Health , illness, professional nursing concepts and plan of study
    Phase III   Course descriptions and learning outcomes
    Phase IV   Selecting exemplars and placement in each course
    Phase V    Evaluation methods, textbook selection, syllabi

    The new curriculum will have the concepts organized into the courses with designations of introduce, reinforce, demonstrate; eliminate any prerequisites that are unnecessary barriers; and lay a foundation for documenting the three competencies of knowledge, skills and behavior in each course. We are utilizing our excellent workforce partners and stakeholders this summer by facilitating a DACUM (Developing A CurriculUM) job analysis workshop to obtain duties, tasks, general knowledge and skills necessary in a nursing position which we will tie back directly to our curriculum. The next step will be professional development for all faculty focusing on teaching methods that involve students in their learning as an effective way to advance equity and strengthen student outcomes. We plan on developing a clear communication plan to promote and advise students, parents, counselors and community partners. And lastly, our long-term evaluation plan will look at student outcomes and changes in student outcomes on the NCLEX as well as industry impressions of the students trained under the new CBC.

    We have a lot of moving pieces in redesigning our Nursing curriculum and we are blessed to have dedicated staff and a supportive administration at Illinois Central College. This committed engagement is absolutely critical to the success of this project. Two years ago, a small group of faculty asked where should they begin? Today we are excited to have the tools and resources necessary to carry out this project and we are asking ourselves, what’s next?

    Judy DietrichJudy Dietrich received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Illinois State University and a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from Bradley University. She has been a PTR Leader since 2009 and would like to thank the core group of faculty involved in this PTR project: Michael Gallagher, Ron Lombard, Sandi Kokotek, and Beth Reese. 

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  • Analyzing Student Data from an Equity Perspective…In Real Life

    What does it mean to report student outcomes by gender, race, or income level? Our college has been grappling with this question as we pursue a variety of assessment projects that involve analysis of student data.

    We have found that some educators object to reporting outcomes by demographics at all. They worry that we will use race or gender to "explain" low success rates. They also question the purpose of presenting data that show predictable gaps between privileged and less privileged students. What do these reports ultimately achieve?

    As researchers, we appreciate these concerns, and we are mindful of them when we analyze student data. However, we also believe that measuring and addressing gaps in student outcomes is essential work that drives our institution to improve.

    The Pathways to Results process gives us a model for analyzing demographic data responsibly, and it provides language that helps us to keep the focus on institutional responsibility. In particular, our team has benefited from the distinction between "deficit-minded" thinking and "equity-minded" thinking, a concept originating from the Center for Urban Education that is integral to the PTR process.  Rather than concluding, "These students do not perform as well," we have adopted the mindset that "We are not serving these students as well."

    PTR team
    Harry S Truman College's PTR Team

    Our PTR team's data analysis of the Cosmetology program revealed that African American male students have lower success rates. In our assessment, we discovered that many of our male students are seeking to become barbers, and the curriculum did not reflect their career goals as well as it reflected those of female students. As a result of these findings, Truman will make curricular changes that integrate men's haircutting into the Cosmetology program in FY2017.

    We also found that these students tend to have lower scores on the reading placement test. The focus of our PTR Year 2 implementation project is integrating our Reading Center with Cosmetology so that students receive reading and test-taking support throughout the program.

    We view both of these interventions as our responsibility as a community college that serves a diverse population. At Truman, we are passionate about implementing programs and support services that allow all students to succeed, regardless of where they start, and our hope is that these interventions will bring us closer to our goal of equity.

    Our demographic analysis helped us to realize that we were not giving all students an equal opportunity to succeed in Cosmetology, and we feel that examining student data in this way was essential to our process. At the same time, we appreciate the concerns raised by our critics, because they remind us that demographic data can easily lead to deficit-minded interpretations. These discussions have prompted us to be more conscious of our language, and to make sure that we emphasize the equity framework throughout any presentation that includes student demographics.

    Maureen and Cari

    Dr. Cari Lynn Hennessy (pictured right) is the Director, Strategic Initiatives at Harry S Truman College. Previously, she worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Institute for Policy Research. She completed her Ph.D. in Political Science at Northwestern University in 2013.

    Maureen Pylman (pictured left) is the Assistant Director of Research and Planning at Harry S Truman College supporting the teaching and research efforts of faculty. She is completing a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee where her research focused on the transition to postsecondary education and educational trajectories.

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  • Understanding Local Workforce Systems

    The passage of WIOA in 2014 marks a new emphasis on workforce strategies that emphasize strong partnerships with many stakeholders that help strengthen local systems. Understanding local workforce systems and these frameworks is important when WIOA moves toward full implementation this summer.

    In our brief, “Understanding Local Workforce Systems,” my co-authors and I offer a framework for local workforce systems, as a strategic way of thinking about a complex set of actors and goals. This brief starts by defining a local workforce system and outlining the current policy and funding context. Then we discuss who the workforce system serves and key organizations involved. Followed by descriptions of the seven major functions of local workforce systems. The brief ends with potential strategies for addressing local workforce issues.

    The brief is part of the five-year collaboration between JPMorgan Chase and the Urban Institute to inform and assess JPMorgan Chase’s philanthropic investments in key initiatives. One of these is New Skills at Work, a $250 million multi-year investment in workforce programs that aims to expand and replicate effective approaches for linking education and training efforts with the skills and competencies employers need.

    Read more at Understanding Local Workforce Systems. If you have any questions or comments on this brief you can contact me at or you can contact the lead author Lauren Eyster at

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  • Finding the Right Tool Among Many for Transforming Pathways

    As we assess and make decisions about our research and many leadership efforts, one question is often at the forefront: How do we make sure that our work is both meaningful and useful in the field to help improve and support student success?

    This question led us this fall to think about how we can help practitioners, many of whom are actively striving to be “data-driven” or “evidence-based” in their practice, to make sense of and apply the many types of evidence and many sources of data (particularly those available in OCCRL’s products) in a systematic and accessible manner. In other words, to start to make OCCRL’s work in the pathways field even more useful.  

    OCCRL has produced a great deal of work on practices, populations, and principles to be used by institutional agents to produce equitable outcomes for students on their pathways. What we haven’t done is illustrate how the various publications, findings, and products can fit together in specific contexts to address problems of student success. In our latest Insights on Equity and Outcomes brief— Transforming Pathway Performance: Leveraging Key Knowledge of Pathways Principles, Populations, and Practices we sought to do this by offering a facilitation tool to bridge what we know from research with how campus practitioners make decisions in the field.  

    Visual 2

    This facilitation tool is now available in its first published iteration. However, we welcome your input as we begin to think about how we can make it even better. How do you see this facilitation tool being used within your institution? In what ways can it be improved to addressed contextual nuances that differentiate one institution from another? 

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  • Transfer in the Spotlight: New Models, New Opportunities

    Despite it's long historic mission in U.S. community colleges, transfer is receiving a great deal of attention these days. Issues related to successful transfer from community colleges to universities are being explored through initiatives such as Credit When It's Due (CWID) and transfer research. In cities like Chicago, higher education institutions are exploring new models such as the Arrupa College created by Loyola University of Chicago. Serving underserved populations, particularly low-income students in the Chicago metropolitan area, Arrupa College promises to offer a summer pre-enrollment orientation, small class sizes and academic and social supports, one-on-one contact with specialized faculty, an associate’s degree that is fully transferable throughout the state, and possibly most important, a financial strategy that permits low-income students to fully finance the cost of instruction without accumulating debt that will extend beyond completion of their associate’s degree.

    To read the full article by Debra Bragg, please go to:

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