5 Insights on the State of Scheduling in Higher Education

5 Insights on the State of Scheduling in Higher Education

Efficient course scheduling plays a pivotal role in ensuring academic success for students. Offering the right mix of courses, at the right time, ensures students are able to access the necessary courses to progress through their degree in a timely manner. However, creating the course schedule is a complex process that involves numerous factors. In a recent survey conducted by AACRAO (American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers), 340 leaders across higher ed reported on the current state of scheduling practices at their institutions. Read our top takeaways below from this comprehensive survey. 

Only 1 in 4 Agree That They Practice Student-Centric Scheduling

While institutions increasingly strive to center all of their operations around students, only 27% of survey participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "our institution practices student-centered class scheduling.” Given institutions are almost twice as likely to consider faculty preferences over student needs according to the survey, this isn’t entirely surprising. However, the course schedule is a critical tool to ensure students stay on track and remain enrolled at your institution. 

Characteristics of student-centric scheduling include: 

  • Analyzing section fill rates from previous terms to determine where student demand is not being met 
  • Using data from sources such as degree audits, student education plans, and projected enrollment to forecast demand 
  • Offer courses based on student need, not faculty preferences

Faculty Preferences Overshadow Student Needs When Creating the Course Schedule

Numerous factors influence how the course schedule is created including faculty availability, space availability, enrollment projections, and more. AACRAO found that faculty availability and preference were the top two factors considered when creating the schedule (89% and 78% of institutions, respectively). However, only 43% of institutions report that they assess student need, as measured by educational plan data or degree audit data. 

Even though institutions have increased their focus on student needs over the past few years, this data has not significantly changed since AACRAO conducted a previous iteration of this survey in 2016. At that time, approximately 90% of institutions relied on faculty availability and 70% relied on faculty preference as a very important or important factor for scheduling. However, less than 50% relied on data collected from student plans of study to inform the course schedule. 

Changes Are Frequently Made to the Schedule After it is Published to Students 

Nearly all (99%) of institutions report that they make changes to their course schedule after it is published for students to see. Additionally, 60% of institutions report that they make changes to more than 10% of their schedule after it is published. 

Making changes to the course schedule after it is published can be detrimental to students who have already used this information to plan out which courses they plan to take. Last minute changes may force students to scramble to find new courses, fulfill requirements, or enroll in the appropriate number of credits to maintain their financial aid eligibility.  

Only 5% of Institutions Report Using Significant Predictive Analytics For Scheduling 

While 87% of institutions reported that they use data to some extent to inform the course schedule, only 5% of institutions report a significant predictive analytics strategy with dedicated resources for shaping the course schedule. Institutions report that a lack of time and a lack of data analysis expertise prevents them from leveraging data to forecast the course schedule.

For institutions without the resources to hire dedicated staff with data analysis skills, leveraging a scheduling analytics tool can help provide insight into course demand, without needing significant skills to access this data. Scheduling analytics can shed light on where additional sections are needed, where sections can be consolidated to optimize resources, and when courses should be offered to meet student needs. 

Scheduling Data Provides Insight Into How the Course Schedule Impacts Student Success

Analyzing scheduling data is a great way to assess how well your institution currently supports student needs. Respondents noted a number of ways that they’ve found how the course schedule impacts students, such as:

  • “Our annual survey to students who don’t return tells us class availability is a big reason why they didn’t come back.” 
  • “Based on the waitlist, we do not offer enough high-demand classes.” 
  • “4-day-a-week scheduling creates a number of conflicts, which prevents a student from enrolling in appropriate courses.” 

Only 16% of institutions report that they’ve leveraged scheduling data to understand the impact on student success. This represents an opportunity to investigate how a variety of scheduling factors impact student success, such as: course combinations, course availability, and course timing.

Top Class Scheduling Practices & Tech: Survey of 340+ Colleges & Universities

Survey results from 340 institutions on the state of academic scheduling across higher ed.

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