What Are Academic Operations?

What Are Academic Operations?

Academic operations are the essential processes that enable students to access education and faculty to deliver their courses. This includes curriculum management, the catalog, syllabi, course scheduling, demand analytics, and more.

Higher education is often associated with many of the student-facing aspects such as teaching, advising, athletics, and more. These are just a few of the critical components that go into running an institution though. For too long, the back end processes that support education delivery have been ignored. However, as education institutions face increased pressure to enroll, retain, and graduate more students, these foundational processes can no longer be ignored.  

Academic operations encompass all of the essential processes that enable students to access their education and faculty to deliver their courses. This includes:

Academic operations: the essential processes

Higher ed leaders agree that these processes are critical to supporting students. A recent AACRAO survey found that 90% of respondents agree that academic operations barriers impact students. For example, students may not be able to register for the courses they need due to conflicts in the course schedule. Or, students may struggle to understand their degree path if curriculum information isn’t easily accessible in the course catalog.

To better serve students and improve outcomes, it’s critical for institutions to think about academic operations holistically, rather than as piecemeal processes. Integrating these processes helps to deliver a better student experience, reduce errors, and improve efficiency.

Curriculum Lives at the Center of Academic Operations

Academic operations are inextricably linked to students and the curriculum. Academic operations are, at their core, the vehicle by which curriculum is created, approved, and delivered to students. However, managing the curriculum portfolio is a complex process as courses and programs evolve over time. To meet student and market demands, new courses and academic programs are always under consideration. Managing curriculum changes often involves:

  • Researching, documenting, and submitting new proposals for review
  • Going through multiple rounds of review before final approval
  • Updating course syllabi and the catalog to reflect newly approved changes or additions

The Catalog is an Essential Resource For Students

The catalog serves as a central repository for all curriculum information, as well as other institutional policies. Any approved curriculum changes should be accurately reflected in the catalog to ensure students have access to the right information. Connecting your curriculum approval system to the catalog helps ensure that the information presented is always accurate. Additionally, integrating the two processes ensures administrators don’t have to manually enter data from one system into the other, which is prone to error.

Students should also be able to easily navigate the catalog to find the information they need. For example, students shouldn’t have to go through a PDF that runs hundreds of pages long to find program requirements. A survey of college students found that 1 in 4 students says it is difficult to navigate the catalog, indicating an opportunity for improvement at many institutions.  

Course Demand Analytics Proactively Assess Student Needs

Once curricula is finalized and published in the catalog, administrators have to set about creating the course schedule. Rather than just rolling over the schedule or making guesses, course demand analysis helps determine which courses to offer and how many sections are needed. For example, analyzing degree audit data helps show administrators which courses students have already completed, and which ones they still need to complete. This provides insight into real-time student demand so enough sections are offered.

Understanding student course demand is critical as students report that they frequently aren’t able to get into the classes they need. 62% of students at four-year institutions ran into full courses when they were trying to enroll.

Percentage of students who experienced challenges enrolling in the classes they need

However, only one in three institutions extensively uses data to understand course demand according to AACRAO. Additionally, only 8% of undergraduate institutions have a significant predictive analytics strategy with dedicated staff when it comes to leveraging degree audit data.  

While not every institution has the budget to hire additional staff with technical data analysis expertise, new tools and software can support institutions with proactively understanding course demand. These tools provide administrators with readily available dashboards and insights that don’t require significant time or expertise to access.

Student-Centric Scheduling is Imperative For Student Progression

Once course demand has been assessed, institutions can begin to create the course schedule. Student needs should be at the forefront of the schedule; however, this isn’t always the case. According to AACRAO, only 27% of institutions agree or strongly agree that they engage in student-centric scheduling.

Percentage of institutions that engage in student-centric scheduling

This isn’t entirely surprising as the same study found that faculty preferences and availability are the top two factors when creating the course schedule (89% and 78%, respectively).  

Beyond considering which courses and how many sections need to be offered, courses also need to be offered at the appropriate times. For example, if two required courses that need to be taken in the same term are offered at the same time, students have to pick and choose which one to take. This can delay students from making timely progress through their program.

Using a centralized scheduling tool can help identify conflicts and make adjustments before the schedule is published and available to students. Identifying and correcting conflicts before publishing the schedule ensures students aren’t left scrambling for new courses due to last minute changes. Six in ten institutions report that they make changes to more than 10% of their schedule after it is published, indicating students are frequently forced to make changes to their planned courses.

Academic Operations Are a Continuous Cycle That Must Be Monitored

While institutions are always in the process of reviewing new curriculum updates, publishing the catalog, and creating the course schedule, it’s also imperative that they monitor the impact of these changes. Evaluating course and program metrics helps determine where and how resources should be allocated to best support student and the institutional mission.

Pulling course and program metrics can be difficult if the information lives across multiple systems. However, an integrated academic operations system serves as a central repository for this data, ensuring accuracy and easy accessibility. Key metrics to evaluate within your academic operations ecosystem include:

Frequently assessing these metrics, rather than waiting every 5-10 years for a program review, helps optimize resources and identify areas for improvement before it is too late.

The Guide to Academic Operations in Higher Education

Learn how to integrate and modernize your academic operations to boost efficiencies, improve student success and optimize resource allocation.

Download White Paper

Related content

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.