How Much Are Academic Operations Inefficiencies Costing You?

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It’s no surprise to higher ed leaders that managing academic operations such the curriculum, catalog, and class scheduling is a complex and involved effort. Multiple administrative offices, academic units, and channels of communication make up the academic operations ecosystem. Countless decisions must be made including deciding which courses to offer, when and where, or when to hire new faculty.

However, these decisions are often made without all the information necessary to make a fully informed decision. Data living across units or in multiple systems can’t be viewed holistically and information gets lost in fragmented processes. To understand the full cost of inefficient academic operations, higher ed leaders should consider three impacts inefficiencies have on their institution and students.

1. Scheduling inefficiencies lead to unoptimized resources

Due to a lack of data to inform the course scheduling process, most institutions offer courses with unbalanced sections — either over-enrolled or under-enrolled. A section at or near full enrollment capacity represents an opportunity to offer additional sections, enabling more students to enroll and consequently boosting student credit hours and tuition. On the other hand, a section with relatively low enrollment suggests a non-optimal use of resources. In this case, institutions should ask themselves:

  • Could the section be combined with another one?
  • Could the instructor teach a course with higher demand at that time?
  • Could a smaller classroom be used?

2. Course availability impacts student retention and graduation rates

Research from Complete College America establishes a strong connection between students' ability to take productive credits within their degree programs and their graduation & retention rates. If institutions do not offer the courses needed for students to progress on their pathway, students may deviate from their course of study, terminate their studies, or leave the institution to take the courses they need elsewhere.

When creating a course schedule, institutions should ask themselves:

  • Does the course schedule enable students to take the classes they need to stay on track towards graduation?
  • Does your course schedule limit the number of productive credits students are able to take by not offering courses at the times students need them?

3. Guard against suboptimal faculty hiring and release time decisions with data and analytics

Determining faculty resource needs and tracking instructor time allocation can be difficult, but it is crucial to meet student demand and optimize resources. There is a fine balance to determining the faculty hiring timeline. Hire too early and institutions spend precious resources unnecessarily, but hire too late and institutions miss out on additional student credit hours. Not only do institutions need to determine when to hire new faculty and in which department, but they also need to ensure instructor specialities align with student needs.

To determine existing faculty resource allocation, institutions should have a firm understanding of how they approve course release time and in what quantities. In addition to considering faculty motivations for course releases, institutions should consider department and students needs including:

  • Which courses or sections will you not be able to offer as a result of the course release?
  • Can any other faculty teach the course or section that will not be offered as a result of the course release?
  • If the course or section isn’t offered due to the course release, will it prevent students from accessing the course they need to stay on track and graduating on time?