Three Best Practices for Course Scheduling in 2020

At Coursedog, our goal is to make life easier for college registrars like you. Every year, registrar responsibilities become more and more complex. From 2000 to 2017, college enrollment increased 27% to 16.8 million students. The number of majors and minors is also growing. And with limited classroom space, course scheduling has become an enormous headache for university administrators.

Old, outdated practices just don’t cut it anymore. 

To help the modern registrar manage the ever-changing landscape of course scheduling, we’ve researched three best practices that will help you survive the 21st century. 

1. Understand Your Students’ Needs

If we’re going to discuss course scheduling best practices, we have to ask the question, “Best practices for whom?” What does scheduling success look like?

Define Success

Faculty might say success is 15 students enrolled per class. The Budget and Finance Department might say success is making the scheduling process more efficient and not hiring a new staff member. But while all these perspectives are important, colleges and universities must benefit students first and foremost.

The typical college course looks nothing like it did twenty years ago. Online classes and accelerated classes are becoming more and more popular. What course styles do students prefer and what modern obstacles to they face?

Take a look at CUNY’s new Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative. ASAP provides students with flexible scheduling options. The results? “Through this schedule framework, ASAP students enjoy a graduation rate that is double that of their peers in other programs (53 percent compared to 24 percent).”

By recognizing the unique needs of its student body, CUNY was able to implement course scheduling best practices.

2. Collect Data

The only way to understand your institution’s students is to collect data. In the internet age, data collection is no longer optional. And while we understand that data collection can be overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. 

What Data do Registrars Need?

Let’s break it down. There are three types of data effective registrar offices collect.

1. Student Data

We discussed this above. Understand what kinds of courses and degree programs students expect from your institution. Surveys, enrollment data, and other qualitative research can give you a sense of who your students are.

2. Course Data

Understand the various departmental curricula. What courses are offered, which courses are required for graduation, and which courses are electives?

3. Classroom Data 

Finally, collect data on physical spaces and time schedules. Does one department have a 50% vacancy rate from 2pm to 3pm? That’s an opportunity.

Here’s a helpful quote from a Hanover Research report titled Best Practices in Course Scheduling: “Institutions need to collect, manage, and analyze data relating to course scheduling, such as seat-fill rates, enrollment caps, and space utilization. These data, in turn, should be interpreted and inform course scheduling in future terms. For example, knowing which courses fill too soon—or which ones are under-filled—can help determine how to schedule those classes in the future. However, only a few institutions comprehensively track performance metrics with regard to the course catalog, often leading to a disconnect between students’ course needs and actual offerings (emphasis added).” 

Interpret and Distill that Data 

Chances are, you have to complete a year-end report. You might dread this report. But use it as an opportunity to interpret the data you’ve collected throughout the year.

According to Parchment.com, “Your year-end report should also detail the course maintenance and assessment conducted by your team, such as the total number of approvals and cancelations. You can also include statistics surrounding the number of courses offered in the academic year, class updates and student petition requests.” 

3. Centralize the Scheduling Process

Many modern colleges and universities are centralizing their course scheduling processes. Before, course scheduling was delegated to departments and department chairs. But increasing admin complexity and course variations require universities to simplify course scheduling across software and departments. 

John Hershey, president of Ohio Association of Community Colleges, says, “One limitation of current practice is that right now scheduling is done by faculty and academic chairs … they might know the data within their department, but it’s not shared across the college, yet we’re sharing classrooms and spaces. Each department may be in their own little world, but we have to make it a collegewide discussion so everyone can see where the opportunities are.”

The same is happening at the University of Iowa. Their “’generally assigned classrooms’ are used almost three times as much as the ‘departmentally owned classrooms,’ and that these owned spaces ‘make up 39 percent of the classroom inventory and significantly limit effective enrollment capacity and the ability to meet students’ course needs.’ 

The University of Iowa has relied on centralized time blocking to overcome these obstacles to effective course scheduling. 


Benefits of Following Course Scheduling Best Practices

When registrars follow these best practices, we see that they experience three main benefits.

Higher student graduation rates

As we saw with the CUNY ASAP initiative, course scheduling efforts that took student needs into account saw graduation rates double.

Department savings

Course scheduling best practices can save universities millions. For example, Stark State saved “$2 million in instructional costs and increased their tuition yield by $1.3 million because they were offering more courses at the times students wanted.”

Save your sanity

Yes, student success is important. But your success is important, too. Efficient course scheduling methods reduce your stress levels.


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