VCCS Pathways: ATD’s Impact on Advising and Student Support

What does it look like to provide a seamless, sustained, and personalized advising and student support experience that helps students achieve their academic and career goals? In April, twenty-three Virginia Community College System (VCCS) colleges came together to discuss this question in cross-functional, cross-hierarchical teams during three one-day institutes facilitated by Achieving the Dream (ATD).

Over the past year, all of the VCCS colleges have been engaged in guided pathways efforts. VCCS colleges are now working to operationalize how they help students choose and stay on their paths by holistically redesigning the way the colleges support students from initial connection with the college through transfer to a four-year institution or the workforce.  VCCS called upon ATD for guidance to help the colleges learn more about advising and student support redesign[1] and how to begin planning their own implementation approach.  

The VCCS colleges see this pathways work as a crucial part of their six-year plan to address access, retention, completion, and progression towards achieving their statewide goals.

“We have been thoughtfully working towards understanding, planning, and implementing the best student-focused approach to remove institutional and systemic hurdles that impede student success. With more than 250,000 students in our system, we want to ensure that every student has the support needed to get them on the right path, keep them on the right path, and successfully transfer and/or enter employment.” - Shauna Davis, Executive Director, Student Success Center, VCCS

After the three intensive institutes and team working sessions, a few specific themes emerged:

  • There needs to be a clear definition of advising: what it entails, who does the advising, and whether it is informally or formally embedded in a job description.
  • Structures (organizational structure, roles, and policies) and processes (professional development and protocols) must be designed to facilitate the desired behavioral change in students, faculty, and support staff.
  • Increasing communication across departments is essential to help break down silos and provide a more seamless experience for students to acquire information.
  • Because the majority of the community college student body is composed of part-time students, colleges must design support models to impact the experience of these students rather than designing models that emphasize the full-time, traditional student experience.
  • Intentionality in planning small encounters throughout the student experience will impact student success—from introducing advisors to new students by name early in their college journeys to sharing the outcomes of their referrals with faculty so they can check in with their students and offer further advice and support after completion of a course.

“We-everyone on campus-need to transition from talking about MY students to talking about OUR students so all students experience and feel our support everyday,” said one administrator on a reflection form, summing up the enormous task each college is tackling through its integrated student support redesign.

Colleges currently pursuing or interested in pursuing advising, planning, and student support redesign have the opportunity to attend ATD’s inaugural Integrated Advising and Student Support Institute in New Orleans from October 2nd – 5th. Learn more and register at  

[1] The integrated student support approach uses technology to support broader reforms across the student support function of higher education institutions and promotes, supports, and sustains long-term proactive, holistic, and personalized student supports. Using technology enables personnel throughout the college to engage in student support interaction that (a) approach student support as a teaching function; (b) touch students on a regular basis; and (c) connect them to the information and services they need when they need them, in order to keep students on track to graduation.

While you may have heard acronyms such as iPASS or IPAS, we refer to this approach as the “integrated student support approach”. Whereas some may emphasize “advising redesign,” we use “student support redesign” because it is inclusive of the holistic and comprehensive redesign of the web of services and supports (including but not restricted to advising) around which this approach is focused.


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