Simplifying Scheduling: A 3-part Series: Part 1

June 16, 2020
Class Scheduling

Despite COVID-19, your on-campus classes will ultimately return. Unfortunately, scheduling will still be a challenge. Don’t despair. You’re in good company because for countless other colleges and universities efficient and effective course scheduling remains unattainable. On a more positive note, now may be the perfect time to simplify and optimize your scheduling process.

This 3-part series will help you understand the problems so many schools face today in their section scheduling endeavors. It will also provide guidance on determining your specific pain points, managing cultural change, and finding the scheduling solution that’s best for your institution.

Part 1 - prefer an ebook?

Introduction: The Problem. The Pain Points.

Scheduling is a cornerstone of nearly every institutional initiative. An effective course schedule can have an incredible impact on student retention and success, faculty satisfaction, and administrative and financial efficiency. Inefficient scheduling, conversely, prevents students from graduating on time, frustrates instructors, stymies administrators, and costs colleges and universities millions.

Lost in Space (Management)

Growing enrollments. Inefficient space management. Reduced facilities budgets. These are the issues plaguing college administrators today. In fact, research shows that many, if not most, institutions report they are out of space across their campus. Yet, on average, classrooms are in use for less than half of the weekly instructional hours, and, when in use, are only slightly more than half full.

Nationally, enrollment grew nearly 12% between 2007 and 2013. Across the same time period, campus space grew only 6%. And revenue contraction has made the previous build-to-grow strategy unsustainable in recent years, forcing institutions to reevaluate how they manage their space.

What Students Want

While schools tout students’ success as an absolute, institutional priority, few prioritize their needs when scheduling. An AACRAO survey found that among the factors considered when scheduling courses “driven by data collected from student plans of study” ranked as least influential!

Many schools begin planning schedules no more than one academic term in advance. As such, there’s a disconnect between students’ course needs and actual offerings. So, universities often fail to offer courses that accurately and consistently service the academic needs and interests of their constituents; The result is an excess of over-enrolled and under-utilized courses. The misalignment also means that courses could potentially be removed based on insufficient demand.

What Faculty Want

Meanwhile, faculty availability is ranked first among the factors considered in the undergraduate scheduling process. However, instructor preferences can often place artificial constraints on the times at which classes may take place. The result, as you well know, is “primetime,” where a disproportionate number of sections are clumped within narrow timeframes (often between 10 am and 2:00 pm, and rarely, if ever, on Fridays). 

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. The faculty-centric approach also places undue pressure on schedulers to find solutions in cases where doing so may not even be feasible.

Woe the Administrator

Scheduling is a tedious and time-consuming process for most administrators. On average, schedulers spend roughly 2-3 weeks each term editing and fixing schedules. And half of all institutions still schedule entirely manually. Does yours?

Students’ needs are changing drastically, and universities recognize that they need to do more to keep up. Simply put, schools that make it difficult for students to complete their courses of study efficiently inevitably incur the costs associated with doing so. Thus, schools that prioritize student-centric, data-driven scheduling are able to both augment student success and reduce expenses.

First Step: Identify Key Pain Points

Before overhauling your scheduling process, the first step is to understand your current circumstance and to pinpoint precisely where your school may be falling short. So, how do you determine the state of scheduling on your own campus? As with most analysis, both quantitative and qualitative considerations apply.

Quantitative questions to ask your team might include: How long does it take to build the schedule? How many staff are involved? What percentage of classes take place during “primetime”? How satisfied are students with their schedule?

At the same time, qualitative analysis can provide color to circumstances that quantitative data sometimes can’t. Schedulers can also engage in self-reflection to determine their campus’s general perception of scheduling. Ask questions like: How much of your time is spent on manual data entry? Do you use paper forms? How do you deal with last minute change requests? How do you use data to make scheduling and course-offering decisions?

What’s Next?

Coming soon. Part 2, Preparing for Change: A Cultural Approach, followed by Part 3, Selecting a Scheduling Solution: What to Look for in a Vendor.

Learn more. Take a look at our Simplifying Scheduling Playbook.

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