Top Class Scheduling Practices & Tech: Survey of 340+ Colleges & Universities
AACRAO’s recent survey gained insights from 340 institutions across the country on the state of academic scheduling. The survey results in this report uncover the practices, policies, and trends that shape how institutions create the course schedule. Learn about 16 different factors that influence the course schedule such as how students access the schedule, when and how courses are offered, and how class scheduling can be optimized.
- Factors and policies that shape the course schedule
- How data and technology is used to support the creation of the course schedule
- Characteristics of student-centric scheduling
This report, and research supporting it, represents a continuation of AACRAO’s partnership with Coursedog to investigate and benchmark institutional practices related to back-office operations and student success. This report focuses on undergraduate class-scheduling policy, practice, staffing, use of data and use of technology. We found that the class-scheduling process is complex at most undergraduate-serving institutions. For example, there are numerous factors contributing to when, how, where and in what delivery modality a class is scheduled and while some factors are student-centric in nature, others are more institutional- or faculty-centric. In this report we attempt to disentangle the various inputs for the undergraduate-class schedule, highlight how these inputs can hinder or help student success, how institutions consider students throughout the class scheduling process and where institutions have opportunities to make their class scheduling practices more student-centric. This current research builds upon previous AACRAO research and these related AACRAO reports, Academic Operations: Benchmarks and Ties to Student Success (2022) , the Undergraduate-Class and Academic-Program-Demand Practices July 2022 60-Second Survey report, the Dual Enrollment in the Context of Strategic Enrollment Management - November 20163 report, and the Dual Enrollment from Two Points of View: Higher Education and K–124 journal article. AACRAO also completed a 60-Second Survey and Report in 2016 on class-scheduling practices.
As noted in the July, 2022, 60-Second Survey report we often use the terms “course” and “class” interchangeably in higher education. We do this when discussing the practice of creating a schedule with specific days, times, delivery modalities, and locations for courses/ classes. However, there are at least two other common working definitions of the word “course.” The first applies to catalog-level information and the second to a set of classes or a program of study used to obtain a credential. In the context of this report and the related survey, “class” was, and is, intended to mean a course from the academic catalog that has been built into a schedule and available for registration for a particular term. To aid in a common understanding of the data from this survey and related surveys, the working definitions on the following page were used to interpret the data and shape the report.
02 Working Definitions
Course: The details reside at the catalog level and include various types of information, such as title, level, description, course learning outcomes/performance objectives, pre and co-requisites, type, etc.
Class: A course from the catalog that has been built into a schedule and is available for registration for a particular term. A course may be offered as a class several times each term. Section: Some institutions use the term “section” to differentiate more than one instance of the same class in the schedule offered at the same time. Others use section as a stand-alone term meaning the same as the definition of “class” above.
Class schedule building or timetabling: These terms are interchangeable and mean the practice of accounting for all of the details needed to offer classes to students in any particular term to ensure the timely progression for students to meet educational goal(s).
Term: This refers to an institution’s academic calendar and/or length of classes offered and is used throughout the survey. For example, a term might be a semester, trimester or a quarter, OR a term might be an 8-week course offering or another period of time less than the full semester.
AACRAO Research solicited participation in the survey from AACRAO’s list of member institutions that serve undergraduate students in the United States. Responses were received from 340 institutions, with the following characteristics:
- 41% are public
- 76% serve undergraduates, graduate and/or professional students; 24% are undergraduate only
- 89% operate on a semester-based academic calendar, 7% on a quarter-based academic calendar, 2% on a trimester-based academic calendar and 2% on another academic calendar
- 6% are fully online instruction only; of those, 1% are offer only asynchronous instruction
- respondents represent 48 states and Puerto Rico
03 Key Insights
Creating the Class Schedule
- faculty preference remains a strong influence in determining when, where and in what delivery modality undergraduate classes will be offered; 78% of institutions use this as a factor
- faculty availability was the only influencing factor selected by more respondents (89%)
- 76% copy the current academic year and term class schedule to the following academic year and term as the starting points for the class schedule
- 49% release the class schedule to students “less than one academic term in advance” of the term start
- 27% agree or strongly agree with the statement, “Our institution engages in student-centered class scheduling,” 31% disagree or strongly disagree and 43% neither agree nor disagree
- a central academic-affairs unit is most likely to have executive-level responsibility for class scheduling (68%), followed by enrollment management or student services (18%), another academic unit such as a college, school or department (12%), the remaining 2% are student affairs or the office of the chief executive
- 66% report all classes must meet certain minimum-enrollment limits or they are canceled; 4% will run a class with lower-than-expected enrollment all of the time and 30% report that the practice varies by class
- 72% of those who serve undergraduate and graduate/professional students report that the practices reported here are the same for graduate/professional classes
Time & Day Scheduling Practices
- 89% use established time blocks for undergraduate classes; among those, 66% report being able to schedule classes outside established time blocks
- 100% offer classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
- 76% report that midday (10:11 a.m. to 1:59 p.m.) is when most classes are scheduled to start in the undergraduate-class schedule
Use of Data & Technology
- 51% report “some localized, reactive analytics and reporting efforts” as descriptive of their institution’s use of data and analysis to shape the undergraduate class schedule
- 42% have, and use, an undergraduate class-scheduling software solution
- 67% offer dual enrollment courses with one or more high school partners; among those, classes offered are most strongly influenced by what the high-school partner wants to offer (74%)
- fewer than 20 institutions have made either student-centered changes or institution-centered changes to the fall 2022 class schedule in response to inflation (i.e., increase in fuel costs, increase in other transportation costs, increase in child-care costs)
04 Who Builds the Undergraduate Schedule of Classes?
The following definitions were used to categorize who on campus is involved in building the undergraduate schedule of classes.
Centralized: A single unit is responsible for managing and coordinating all aspects of the class-scheduling function. Information is gathered from other sources, but technology management and data input are the responsibility of a single unit. Related policies are also developed by this single unit, with or without input from other units or departments.
Decentralized: The class-scheduling function is decentralized for all processes, including technology use, data entry and policy development. For example, when a class schedule is being created, different colleges/academic units on campus create the content related to their unit, with little to no input from other academic or administrative units.
Hybrid: The management of the function involves a combination of decentralized and centralized practices.
- 43% use a hybrid model
- 40% use a centralized model
- 17% use a decentralized model
Private institutions are more likely to use a centralized model, while public institutions are more likely to use a hybrid model. Smaller institutions are more likely to use a centralized model, while larger institutions are more likely to use a hybrid model.
05 Staffing Levels
Institutions employ different numbers of people to facilitate the undergraduate-class-scheduling process, as shown below.
- 13% employ 20 or more full-time equivalent (FTE) employees for this task
- 10% employ 10-19 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees for this task
- 11% employ 5-9 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees for this task
- 45% employ 1-4 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees for this task
- 22% employ fewer than 1 full-time equivalent (FTE) employee for this task
06 Factors Considered when Building the Undergraduate-Class Schedule
Respondents were asked to select all the factors that influence the day, time, delivery modality and/or location of classes built into the undergraduate-class schedule. Among the 17 available response choices, faculty availability, faculty preference and the class schedule from the previous year for the same term were selected by the highest percentage of respondents as factors used when building the undergraduate-class schedule (Fig. 1). These data are similar to the 2016 results. In addition, half of the institutions use class-fill-rate data from previous terms as a factor, and 43% use student need as measured by educational-plan data or degree-audit data. None selected “the public transportation schedule” response choice.
07 Top Three Factors Considered When Building the Undergraduate Class Schedule
When asked to select the three most important factors in building the class schedule from the choices offered, the class schedule from the previous year and term is the most influential factor, followed by faculty availability and faculty preference (Fig. 2). There appears to be no relationship between the use of faculty preference as a factor in building the class schedule and institutional type or control.
08 Student-Centered Scheduling–Why or Why Not?
When respondents were asked about their personal level of agreement with the statement, “Our institution engages in student-centered class scheduling,” 27% agreed or strongly agreed, 31% disagreed or strongly disagreed and 43% neither agreed nor disagreed. The institutional held perception of engaging in student-centric scheduling appears to be positively associated with the use of data to support the development of the class schedule (Fig. 3).
Respondents were given the option to provide comments on why they believe class scheduling is student-centered at their institution or why they believe it is not. The themes from each category are as follows.
Characteristics of Student-Centered Scheduling
- student need assessed using several criteria
- use of data from educational plans to project needs
- use of data from past terms to project needs
- flexibility to adjust class offerings when a student’s need is assessed
Characteristics of Non-Student-Centered Scheduling
- faculty-centered scheduling
- lack of assessment of student needs
- lack of a cohesive process for determining the class schedule
- no use of data, or data not available
09 When the Undergraduate-Class Schedule Is Built and When Students Can Access that Schedule
Questions in the survey were designed to differentiate when the institution builds the class schedule and when students are able to access it. Twenty-six percent of institutions build the class schedule less than one academic term in advance, 28% build it one academic term in advance and another 30% build the schedule more than one academic term in advance but less than an academic year (Fig. 4). Nearly half (49%) of institutions allow access to the schedule of classes less than one academic term in advance.
10 Changes to the Class Schedule and Enrollment Requirements
Even though institutions have a deadline to build the class schedule, 27% of respondents estimate their institution makes changes to a class meeting, day, time, delivery modality and/or location for 21% or more of the classes after the schedule has been made public (Fig. 5).
In addition, 66% report all classes must meet certain minimum enrollment limits or they are canceled. Four percent will run a class with lower than expected enrollment all of the time, and 30% report the practice whether to let a class run with lower than expected enrollment varies by class. Reasons for letting a class run with low enrollment include:
- if a student, or students, needs the course to graduate
- practice varies by the academic department and/or discipline
- if the class is scheduled for a cohort
- if the course being taught meets a core-program requirement as compared to an elective course.
11 Class Offerings By Days of the Week
Classes are scheduled on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 100% of the institutions in this survey, 99% on Mondays and 95% on Fridays. In addition, 29% schedule undergraduate classes on Saturday and 9% on Sunday. Among those that offer classes on Saturday and/or Sunday, more than half (55%) shared that the factors used to determine if a class is scheduled on Saturday or Sunday are different from factors used to determine scheduling Monday through Friday. Often weekend classes are for specific student cohort-based programs, or they are very rarely scheduled.
Data also benchmarked the combination of days over which classes are scheduled. Thirteen combinations of days were offered as response choices in the survey, as well as “another combination of days not described here.” The Tuesday and Thursday combination is used the most (95%), and the Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday time period is the least used (4%) (Fig.6). However, 33% selected “another combination of days not described here,” and this data is tabulated in Appendix A.
Among the proffered response choices, the Tuesday/Thursday combination was selected as the most frequently used in terms of classes scheduled by 51% of respondents. This was followed by Monday/Wednesday and Friday (30%) and Monday/Wednesday (13%).
12 Use of Time Blocks and Class-Start Times
Eighty-two percent of respondents in the 2016 60-Second Survey(n=701 undergraduate-serving institutions) reported using established time blocks; 89% of the current survey respondents indicated the same.
Reasons for scheduling outside established time blocks include:
- as needed
- by exception
- certain programs or cohorts
- nonstandard classes
- permission received from the academic dean or other appropriate administrator
Among the class-start-time blocks listed as response choices, 96% indicate classes begin between 7:00 a.m. and 9:59 a.m., while only 4% indicate classes are scheduled before 7:00 a.m. and 17% after 8:00 p.m. (Fig. 6). Classes are most frequently scheduled to start between 10:00 a.m. to 1:59 p.m.
13 Class-Delivery Modalities
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in most institutions of higher education changing all, or nearly all, of their class-delivery modality to some form of remote learning or mostly remote learning. As a result, there appears to have been a paradigm shift in the number of modalities offered by institutions for undergraduate classes.
Respondents were presented with 13 class-delivery modalities. The response choice “in-person” was defined as encompassing all locations a class may be offered, independent of whether the class is on an institution’s campus or offered elsewhere. On the high end, the “in-person lecture” modality was selected by all that were not exclusively online institutions. On the low end, the comparatively new modality of “HyFlex” was selected by 29% (Figure 8). Health-related clinicals were listed by most of the 5% who selected “Other” as a response choice. In all, there are 147 different combinations of modalities offered by responding institutions. Eight percent schedule undergraduate classes in all 13 modalities.
14 Dual-Credit Classes
“Dual credit” describes a class that is offered to currently enrolled high-school students by a higher-education institution in partnership with a high school. When students successfully complete a class, they earn credit toward a high-school graduation requirement and college credit. Sixty-seven percent of institutions in this sample offer dual-credit classes, as compared to 78% who indicated the same in the 2016 sample . Factors influencing why, which, when and how dual-credit classes are scheduled differ from non dual-credit classes (Fig. 9). What the high school-partner wants to offer is the most selected factor (74%), followed by faculty availability (40%) and the schedule from the previous year for the same term (28%). Because these classes are predominantly taught by high-school instructors, faculty availability is less of a factor influencing the class schedule than with non dual-enrollment classes.
15 Use of Data
The use of data and analysis is imperative if an institution wants to provide student-centered scheduling. Most respondents (87%) characterized their institution’s use of data and analysis to shape the undergraduate-class schedule as follows:
- some localized, reactive analytics and reporting efforts (51%)
- modest, dedicated analytics strategy, and effort (32%)
- significant predictive analytics strategy with dedicated staff and technology (5%)
- 13% indicated there is no use, or very little use, of data for this purpose
Among those reporting “no” to very little use of data, a lack of time was selected by half as a barrier, followed by 46% selecting a lack of staff with the expertise. Thirty-eight percent indicated a lack of appropriate tools (Figure 10). Lack of buy-in is a primary theme derived from the comments provided by those who selected “other,” and the lack of buy-in is primarily from faculty.
16 How Class-Scheduling Practices Impact Student Success
Among the institutions that use data, 16% report data has provided insights into how undergraduate-class-scheduling practices impact student success, either positively or negatively. Included below are some details on the insights provided by the data.
- Our former practices are antiquated, and the initiatives I am pushing on my campus are worthwhile.
- Our annual survey to students who don’t return tells us class availability is a big reason why they didn’t come back.
- 4-day-a-week scheduling creates a number of conflicts, which prevents a student from enrolling in appropriate courses.
- A student registers for (combination of classes) can impact the success of a student, specifically a first-time student.
- Students who work with an advisor, enroll in correct credits and take 15+ credits per semester add to our high-graduation rate.
- Data analysis is performed to assess the impact of scheduling practices on student progression and performance; for example, data analysis provides insight into the impact of length of time between courses (nonterm structure) on student progression and retention.
- Based on the waitlist, we do not offer enough high-demand classes.
- Our data shows students prefer online or hybrid classes to inperson classes.
- It varies by student demographic and by degree program. For example, we have found that non-traditional students typically do very well in very early classes and in evening classes, but the success rates are less for traditionally-aged students in those time slots. Online asynchronous classes also have variation in success rates, by demographic and by course (e.g. some online math and science classes can have less success than some of the online social-science classes). It also can vary by term–we generally have very good success in our Winter term of about 4 weeks over the holiday break, and the Winter term is cash-pay. Students have “skin in the game” and a focused reason for why they want/need to take the class in the Winter, such as to fulfill a prerequisite or to catch up on credits for athletic eligibility.
- Class scheduling success is dependent on the student’s learning preferences.
17 Class-Scheduling Solutions in Use and ROI
In this sample, 42% report their institution uses a class-scheduling-software solution, 37% do not have one, and do not plan to acquire one and 22% do not have one but plan to acquire one. One-hundred and thirty-two respondents shared the solution their institution currently uses (Fig. 11). Solutions in use, and named by respondents for the “other” response choice, include Campus Nexus, Schedule Whiz, OASIS, Celcat, High Point and a home-grown solution.
Most institutions currently using a class-scheduling-software solution report one or more benefits associated with its use (Fig. 12). Six percent report no benefits have been realized to-date.
18 Use of the Schedule-Optimization Function
Most class-scheduling software solutions have built-in optimization rubrics that enable institutions to use data and business intelligence generated by the software to develop a class schedule that is efficient and effective. Fifty-two percent of those in this sample with a class scheduling-software solution use the optimization function, 23% do not use this function, and 25% report the solution in use does not have an optimization function. Nearly all (97%) use this function to assign rooms and maximize the use of space (Figure 13). All other optimization functions have a use rate of less than 50%. Even among those that use this function, there are limitations for many as to the degree it can be applied. Limitations include a lack of a collaborative scheduling process or buy-in for optimization, specialized classrooms, a lack of integration with the student information system, and faculty preference overriding optimization.
19 Influence of Current Inflation on the Fall 2022 Undergraduate-Class Schedule
Given the recent increases in fuel costs, other transportation costs, child-care costs, etc., we sought to understand if inflation had any influence on the fall 2022 undergraduate-class schedule. Most (89%) have not made any changes to the class schedule in direct response to inflation, 5% have made changes, 3% are discussing changes but have not made any, and 3% discussed the issue and decided not to make changes. Among the 14 institutions that have made changes, some have been student-centered changes and others institution-centered changes.
- 7 increased the number of hybrid classes
- 6 increased the number of entirely online classes
- 3 made changes to the on-campus class-attendance policy
- 1 reported consolidating classes
- 1 is attempting to keep classes to 2 days per week in consideration of adjunct faculty
- 1 has increased class fees and added more classes
- 1 has increased the enrollment caps for some of the foundation classes
20 Summary and Recommendations
To be student-centric means to embrace policies and processes that shift focus from the institution to students. The term encompasses a wide range of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies11. Working from the definition above, it appears from the data that class scheduling remains one of the last holdouts in higher education to embrace student-centric practices. Although there are exceptions to this statement, this assertion is supported by the following data points from this representative sample of U.S. undergraduate-serving institutions.
- 78% use faculty preference as a factor for when, where, and how undergraduate classes are scheduled; 50% of those selected it as one of the top three factors.
- Only 27% agree or strongly agree. with the statement, “Our institution engages in student-centered class scheduling.”
- 49% let students access the class schedule less than one academic term in advance, a practice that does not support longer-term planning for students.
- Classes are still predominantly scheduled for the middle of the week, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Overcoming faculty preference as a driving force in undergraduate-class scheduling means overcoming a great deal of inertia tied to historical practice, policies and the limited use of available data to understand student class-scheduling needs and institutional culture. AACRAO advocates the use of data-driven decision making and recommends the use of data to initiate discussions to move toward student-centric undergraduate-class scheduling practices.
21 Appendix A: Combinations of Days Classes are Scheduled