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

  • Moving from Symbolism to Praxis: Insights on Equity for Men of Color from the M2C3

    About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit San Diego to attend a working group meeting put on by the Minority Male Community College Collaborative (M2C3) at San Diego State University. The meeting was designed to promote institutional capacity building to better support men of color in and through the community college. This meeting was appealing as it directly related to the work we do with Pathways to Results (PTR), as the model is designed to facilitate pathway improvement through collaboration, equity guided data analysis and interpretation, and evaluation. My primary goal for attending the meeting was to gain a different perspective on improving pathway outcomes for men of color and other traditionally marginalized student populations on the basis of regional, institutional, and state-level policy difference. Additionally, it was my hope to share relevant work that we do at OCCRL.

    Day one kicked off with a bang with a rousing opening keynote from Estella Bensimon from the Center for Education at the University of Southern California. This opening session was especially valuable for me for two reasons. First, our PTR work is largely informed by the Equity Scorecard, especially how we have come to think about equity and its role in pathway improvement. Second, Dr. Bensimon’s keynote challenged me to be unapologetic in my pursuit of an equity agenda and unrelenting in striving for social justice for those who have traditionally been pushed well beyond the margins. It also reinforced the connection between equity and equity mindedness and pathway improvement that is central to the work of PTR and OCCRL in general.

    The president’s panel was another great aspect of the meeting. Three community college presidents sat on a panel and discussed their philosophies on equity. They shared how under their leadership their institutions are changing their culture to serve all students in a manner that promotes positive outcomes, with particular attention to underserved student populations. Perhaps the most compelling thought from that panel came from Pamela Luster, president of San Diego Mesa Community College. The thought was predicated on the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats, which she noted as being true but posed the question, “what happens if all the boats aren’t in the water?" This was profound for me in that rising tide only addresses the needs of those who are acknowledged or recognized, whereas those who traditionally reside on the margins or on the shores of the water are not reached.

    An additional goal for attending this meeting was to challenge my preconceptions about students and pathways so I decided to attend a session on formerly incarcerated or reentering student populations. This session was particularly eye opening for me as it relates to pathways, as my scope has often been limited to traditional secondary to post-secondary, adult basic education, workforce development, and other similar pathways. Though I have worked with reentering students in the past, I often attached an additional identity, such as an adult basic education student, without consideration for the nuanced intricacies within their experiences. As the primary entry point to education for males of color, the work done at community colleges to promote equity will not be successful unless we recognize the intersection between educational opportunity and other social justice issues such as mass incarceration. As such, greater attention needs to be made first to expanding educational opportunities for males of color and reducing the prison populations, and second to providing seamless transitions post-secondary education for currently or formerly incarcerated individuals.

    As I attend meetings such as this I try to walk away with more than what I came with. My goal is to bring something back to improve upon the work I am engaged in here at OCCRL and to challenge my existing perspectives of the world as I continue to grow as a scholar. This meeting challenged me to expand my conceptions of equity and to be unapologetic in pursuit of it.

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  • 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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  • Resilience, Resourcefulness and Revelation in Black Female Achievement

    One of my SHEros is Fannie Lou Hammer. Ms. Hammer was a civil rights activist, she was particularly key in advancing Blacks voting rights in the State of Mississippi. She once said, “You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something God is not going to put it in your lap.” I thought of her words as prophetic when reading an article this morning. The commentary released last week is entitled “African-American Women Now Top the List of Most-Educated Group in the Country” featured on by Kali Holloway is eye-catching. The feature highlighted a study by the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) that found when examining educational achievement, African-American women have the highest educational outcomes across any demographic. Hence, when looking at the percentage of degrees by sex and race for 2009-2010, 62% of associate’s degrees were conferred by females, with more women than men earning degrees across each race. This difference between genders was highest among the Black graduates. Black women earned 68.3% of the associate degrees awarded to African American’s in 2009-2010. At the baccalaureate level, women earn 57.4% of all BA/BS degrees but for African Americans two-thirds of those with baccalaureates are female in contrast to 56% White, 60.7% Hispanic, 54.5% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 60.7% of American Indian/Alaska Native women have a BA or BS degree.

    Similar patterns hold true for postbaccalaureate degrees. Overall, women earn 62.6% of master’s degrees but African American women hold the largest share of masters when looking by race and gender at 71.1%. Overall, more than half of doctorates awarded in 2009-2010 were awarded to women. Women in each racial group reflected in the NCES study earned a higher percentage of the PhDs, EdDs, or MDs awarded than men. The percentage of doctoral degrees earned, by women in each race, were: White 55%, Hispanic 55%, Asian/Pacific Islanders 56.5%, and 54.8% American Indian/Alaska Native 54.8%, and Black 65.2%. 

    The aforementioned statistics are encouraging, demonstrate increased access and persistence. However, this does not acknowledge the unique confrontations Black females experience in P-20 education when compared to their peers. Research has identified core challenges (e.g., stereotype threat, pressure to prove their intellectual ability, macroaggressions, racial battle fatigue, sexism, etc.) that shape Black girls' success in school and college, the literature also notes their resiliency to traverse chilly educational climates (Baldwin, 1987; Campbell, 2012; Evans-Winters, 2005; Stambaugh & Ford, 2015). There is a common assumption that Black girls and women are exempt from some of the interventions for Black boys and men when the truth is both stand to benefit from guidance on rejecting microaggressions based on their unique characteristics, externalizing microinvalidations, and tackling predicaments with support. In spite of the great gains, there is still work to be done in addressing the successes of Black girls and women amid having to square off with formidable structures that present catch-22s (e.g., misconceptions that all Black females have made it, don’t have racialized gender role strain, already have agency and are not burdened to perform gender in school and work).

    Over the course of the 2015-2016 academic year, OCCRL has hosted Twitter Live Chats that cut across an array of topics germane to pathways to and through college that advance equitable student outcomes. In late April, our Twitter Live discussion focused on Black Girl Excellence #BlackGirlExcellence. The conversation was robust and engaging yet only scratched the surface of the issues and dilemmas that emerge as problematic for African American females across the educational pipeline. We look forward to continuing the dialogue in this area in addition to raising the conversation on equity and outcomes affecting student groups across the spectrum of difference in the months to come.


    • Baldwin, A. Y. (1987). I'm black but look at me, I am also gifted. Gifted Child Quarterly, 31(4), 180-185. doi: 10.1177/001698628703100410
    • Campbell, S. L. (2012). For colored girls? Factors that influence teacher recommendations into advanced courses for black girls. The Review of Black Political Economy, 39(4), 389-402. doi: 10.1007/s12114-012-9139-1
    • Evans-Winters, V. E. (2005). Teaching black girls: Resiliency in urban classrooms (Vol. 279). Peter Lang.
    • Holloway, K. (2016). African-American women now top the list of most-educated group in the country. Alternet, Independent Media Institute.
    • National Center for Educational Statistics. (2012). Degrees conferred by sex and race. Washington, DC: Author.
    • Stambaugh, T., & Ford, D. Y. (2015). Microaggressions, multiculturalism, and gifted individuals who are black, hispanic, or low income. Journal of Counseling & Development, 93(2), 192-201. doi: 10.1002/j.1556-6676.2015.00195.x
    • Zamani-Gallaher, E. M., & Polite, V. C. (Eds.). (2013). African American Females: Addressing Challenges and Nurturing the Future. Michigan State University Press.
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  • Building Futures: Unlocking Inmate Opportunity through Postsecondary Engagement

    Over two million women and men are incarcerated in American jails. There is critical need for us to move from negligence to intentionality in fostering a pipeline to postsecondary and away from prisons.

    According to Kilgore (2015), one-quarter of the prison population worldwide resides in the United States penal system yet Americans only comprise five percent of the total world population. The majority of those serving time are overwhelmingly from underserved communities with large numbers of low-income, people of color disproportionately behind bars. African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, but 2 of every 5 inmates are African American. Latinos account for 14% of the population, but 1 of every 5 inmates are Latino/a (Mauer & King, 2007; U.S. Census Bureau, 2015).

    The cost of maintaining the prison system to taxpayers is substantial. Each year over $80 billion dollars is spent on incarceration in the U.S. (American Civil Liberties Union, 2016). Seventy billion of taxpayer dollars fund state and federal prisons and states expend between $52-62 billion dollars on prison maintenance (Zoukis, 2014). Roughly 5% or fewer inmates enroll in prison postsecondary education programs; largely vocational certificate programs (Erisman & Contardo, 2005). Hence, more annual spending goes toward operating, maintaining, and building prison facilities than spending on basic/life skills education or academic courses beyond the high school diploma. Research has noted that postsecondary prison education positively affects the odds of employment following incarceration (Duwe & Clark, 2014; Langemann, 2015; Lockwood, Nally, Ho & Knutson, 2012). However, despite evidence that correctional educational reduces crime rates and recidivism, limited investment in correctional education and limited access to correctional education continue to be the norm (Bazos & Hausman, 2004; Davis, et al., 2013, 2014).  

    With growing inequities evident in the correctional system, it is imperative that college access reach all populations, including incarcerated individuals. Recent activities that focus on building this access and uplifting inmates are promising. In observance of National Reentry Week, April 24-30, 2016, the Bureau of Prisons as authorized by the Department of Justice hosted mentoring exchanges, family days, job fairs, educational forums, and a host of other events. As programming designed to help prepare inmates for release wrapped during National Reentry Week, the week of May 2nd was eventful with President Obama hosing a prison education reform meeting at the White House. In attendance for the prison reform conversation was University of Illinois Professor Dr. Rebecca Ginsburg who serves as Director of the Education Justice Project (EJP), which is a prison education program with collaboration between UIUC, Danville Area Community College, and Danville Correctional Center. Announced May 5, 2016 in his blog A Nation of Second Chances, the President shared his granting of 58 new clemencies and highlighted those who previously granted clemency that were able to self-actualize and maximize their commuted sentences.

    On May 9, 2016, U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) announced the release of Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals This publication is a guide for colleges and universities to reassess the necessity of prior involvement with the justice system in admissions decisions, encourage access and support services across student populations, and encourage the abandonment of unwarranted hurdles to prospective students irrespective of association with the department of corrections.

    If the U.S. is to have a productive and educated populace that is globally competitive in today’s diverse knowledge economy, then we must acknowledge the grave implications of a failure to extend college to the masses. Neglecting to broaden participation to prisoners in postsecondary programming can only serve to reproduce the cumulative disadvantaging of this population and dim the lights on how bright we could all shine because of not enacting practices that produce rich outcomes for inmates. Opportunities for access to postsecondary education and educational equity in general for incarcerated individuals are lacking. There is critical need for us to move from negligence to intentionality in fostering a pipeline to postsecondary and away from prisons. Community colleges are the sector of higher education that is uniquely situated at the intersection of postsecondary access and opportunity, and as such, uniquely situated to facilitate correctional education. Community colleges are also key in efforts to building educational equity necessary as part of the work of redirecting the pipeline to prison and building in its place a pipeline through education to opportunity.

    To read more on prison education and the role of community colleges in fostering access, see the Update on Research and Leadership FEATURE brief, Altering the Pipeline to Prison and Pathways to Postsecondary Education.


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  • Transforming Retention Efforts at Rend Lake College

    Student retention is often a daunting task, especially in an open admission community college environment. “Our students’ success is our own success” is part of the mission statement at Rend Lake College (RLC). This commitment to students is evident by the fact that RLC has been repeatedly named one of the Aspen Institute's Top 150 Community Colleges in the nation. This recognition is based on a measure of our student success rates, which include first-year retention, three-year graduation rates and credentials awarded. At RLC, we understand that no matter how good our results are, they can always be improved. So, we continually work to make enhancements in our processes to help as many students as possible reach their educational and career goals.


    Rend Lake College has participated in several Pathways to Results projects over the last five years. The PTR model has been an essential tool to help us understand how to make and drive evidence-based changes throughout our College. RLC views this model as an important and worthwhile method of helping identify potential issues and create positive solutions for our students’ benefit.

    During our PTR Project last year, we were given the opportunity to use the PTR Model to evaluate our processes related to a measure that fell below state goals—Student Retention and Transfer—in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) world, this is referred to as the Perkins “3P1” measure. After we developed and engaged our team, we compiled and disaggregated data on a cohort of high school students who had taken CTE dual credit courses, and began to focus our efforts on identifying potential barriers for those students who did not persist to completion.  This included using our quantitative data, but also talking to and surveying students.

    A few unexpected opportunities for improvement emerged.

    First, we discovered that nearly 6% of students who did not persist or transfer had actually completed at least a certificate, but never received it. We also discovered that an even higher percentage of students were within one semester of completing a degree or certificate in these pathways. This was staggering to us. These numbers combined to represent a total of 20% of the students we are losing being somewhere between one form (application for graduation) or one semester away from completion!

    We took our exploration a bit further and began to talk to students individually and were reminded of the many obstacles to completion, including financial ones that could arise from personal, health, or academic troubles. We found that many students leave RLC owing the college money.  A large portion of these students had received a reduction in the financial aid distribution due to non-attendance. The resulting fees act as a barrier to reenrollment after students have overcome whatever issue resulted in their need to stop out.

    Our team worked on developing strategies to improve our processes in response to these findings. Our goal was to find ways to identify and award degrees to students who may have completed a certificate or degree but had not applied for graduation, as well as developing a method of identifying and supporting students who might be struggling academically or financially early enough in a semester to offer them timely support. We are also exploring strategies for using the degree audit process to feed into a program for reengaging students within one semester of completion.

    These findings led us to propose an Automated Degree Audit reporting system, and a more proactive, timely Early Alert process. These two systems are the focus of RLC’s PTR Year 2 project. We have begun working on creating both solutions and are excited to evaluate the results.  

    The Pathways to Results model is a great way to facilitate positive changes that are driven by a focus on equitable outcomes for students. If you have never participated in the PTR process, or have only done so once, you are missing out. The benefits for students make the PTR process worth the time and effort involved.

    K-Shelton-Headshot1Kristina Shelton serves as the Coordinator of Perkins at Rend Lake College. RLC has completed four PTR projects.

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PTR News updates subscribers on the latest publications, meetings, data, and other information related to Pathways to Results.