The 4 Challenges of Excel Course Scheduling

The 4 Challenges of Excel Course Scheduling

Conducting class scheduling through manual processes, such as in spreadsheets, creates multiple challenges for institutions. Learn how to identify these challenges and address them to better meet your institution's needs.

An effective course schedule positively impacts student retention and success, faculty satisfaction, and administrative and financial efficiency. Inefficient scheduling, however, prevents students from graduating on time, frustrates instructors, stymies administrators, and drains institutional resources. Institutions that still rely on spreadsheets for scheduling often experience the following four challenges.

Inefficient space use leaves classrooms empty

Many institutions are asking how space can be used to better meet academic needs. For example, how can space be optimized so additional high-demand sections can be offered? Offering more sections of high-demand courses helps keep students on track and can help bring in additional tuition revenue. Yet, classrooms often aren’t used for their full availability due to how the schedule is built. Overlapping course times and classes packed into a few hours a day means rooms can’t be used to their full potential.

Additionally, space is a finite resource. For many institutions, acquiring new space isn’t an option or building new space is prohibitively expensive. According to analysis by one construction firm, it costs $600 on average for every square foot of campus construction in the US. With tight finances and soaring costs, this isn’t a realistic option for many campuses.

The course schedule doesn’t align with student demand

While student need should be the most important factor influencing the course schedule, this often is not the case. According to a recent survey by AACRAO, less than half of institutions use student-centric scheduling data such as student needed measured by education plan or degree audit data (43%), number of students waitlisted for a class (33%), and student ability to attend during when classes are offered (28%). Additionally, only 1 in 4 (27%) agreed or strongly agreed that they engaged in student-centered scheduling.

Institutions that don’t engage in student-centric scheduling often use manual processes that prevent them from accessing and using student-centric scheduling data. With data living in multiple locations, it is difficult to see holistic trends such as the number of underfilled and overfilled sections, enrollment trends from previous terms, and student need demonstrated from degree audit or student-built education plans.

Faculty member teaching a class

Faculty preferences dominate the scheduling process

Unfortunately, faculty availability and faculty preference represent the top two factors for building the undergraduate schedule. However, instructor preferences can place artificial constraints on the times at which classes occur. As a result, a disproportionate number of sections are clumped within narrow timeframes, also known as “primetime” (often between 10 am and 2:00 pm, and rarely, if ever, on Fridays).

Institutions that lack the data to demonstrate student need often fall into the trap of relying on instructor preferences. Additionally, this common practice makes it difficult for administrators to build a schedule that makes effective use of both campus resources and the full range of hours available in a given working day.

Manual processes take time away from strategic work

Manual scheduling is a tedious and time-consuming process that requires administrators to collate multiple data sources, manually enter data, and check for and correct errors. In fact, 60% of institutions report that they have to make changes to 10% or more of the classes scheduled after the schedule has already been made public.

The time spent on this work takes time away from other strategic activities. Less time spent on manual work enables scheduling teams to spend more time building relationships with academic units, streamlining processes, and assessing student need.

Survey Results: Operational Roadblocks in Academic Affairs

Explore the results from a survey of 220+ higher ed leaders on the impact of academic operations inefficiencies on students and administrators.

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