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Do Your Scheduling Practices Create Inequitable Course Access for Students?

Do Your Scheduling Practices Create Inequitable Course Access for Students?

While ineffective course scheduling practices create headaches for administrators, they also impact students’ ability to access the courses they need. 50% of higher ed leaders surveyed by University Business recently agree that inefficient academic operations and course scheduling prevent students from accessing courses they need.

Students most affected by course access challenges often belong to one or more underserved groups. To promote more equitable outcomes for students, institutions need to examine how their course schedule is designed and with whose needs in mind.  Mamie Voight, President & CEO of the Institute for Higher Education, says “This year presents a great opportunity for making change because of the way inequities have been brought to the forefront…We should be recovering [from the pandemic impact] in a way that is equity-centric.” 

Evaluate how your institution is accommodating the following student groups to create a more equitable course schedule.

Accommodate Caretakers With Schedules That Work Around K12 School Hours 

Students with children have been attending college for decades and the numbers are only increasing. Approximately 28% of college students take care of children or other dependents, and the number is higher at certain institutions. Still, many institutions fail to adequately address the challenges that parents face and create course schedules with their needs in mind. 

Institutions need to acknowledge that caretakers have specific time constraints and often less time available than other students. According to the assistant director for postsecondary achievement and innovation at the policy arm of the Aspen Institute, “[Parents] have about half the time to dedicate to academic pursuits – like being in class, tutoring, studying – as compared to non-parents.”

To accommodate caretakers with children, offer courses during local K12 school hours. Additionally, consider the availability and accessibility of before and after school programs in the area. Calculate commute times from campus for parents to drop off and pick up students. Build these considerations into the course schedule to help accommodate a wide range of caretaking challenges when it comes to accessing courses at times that work with time constraints. 

Work Around Time Constraints for Employed Students 

Students who stop out of college are often more affected by external circumstances, such as work and family, than by the challenge of academics, according to a 15 year study by InsideTrack. To help accommodate these students with external work commitments, schedule courses during times that employed students are more likely to attend. For example, mid-morning classes that wrap up before the afternoon are most suitable for students working in retail or hospitality. Early morning classes and late evening classes are most suitable for students working traditional, first shift jobs. 

Assess the types of jobs your students hold, how far away major employers are from your campus, and how many students work off-campus. Courses are often more accessible for working students when they are scheduled close together to avoid unnecessary gaps of time between classes that extend the time they have to spend on campus. Additionally, consider options for flexible, online, hybrid, or accelerated courses that provide for flexibility for working students. 

Align the Course Schedule With Service Accessibility for Low-Income Students 

Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce reports that, “Of the 14 million working learners, about 6 million (43%) are low-income students.” Dr. Amy Smith, Chief Learning Officer at StraighterLine adds that, “The majority of disengaged learners are working adults that make $50,000 or less.” 

Determine the most important services that low-income students depend on at your institution. These may include child care, tutoring, computer labs, libraries, internet access, and cafeteria services. Students who depend on these services also need course schedules that allow them to access these services. Analyze the course schedule to determine if students can easily attend their classes and access these on-campus services before and after class. 

Ensure Students Are Able to Take Enough Credits to Maintain Their Financial Aid 

Due to course scheduling challenges, students may find themselves unable to take enough credits and drop down below financial aid credit requirements. For example, if courses aren’t offered at times that work for a student’s schedule, they may not register for enough credits to maintain their financial aid status. In other cases, course conflicts prevent students from taking two or more courses they need to take because they are offered at the same time. 

Identify how many and which students rely on financial aid and ensure they are given the scheduling and academic advising support necessary to maintain their financial aid eligibility. Additionally, proactively communicate courses credit requirements clearly to all students. Communicate both the number of credits needed to complete their program on-time and the number of credits needed to maintain their financial aid status. For example, most students need to take 16 credits per term to complete their program on time; however, full-time students only need to take twelve credit hours to maintain their federal financial aid. 

Course Scheduling Essentials for Equitable Access & Completion

Course scheduling is a critical tool to keeping students on the path to completion. Help all students access the courses they need to complete their degree.

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