Some of my most salient memories from my first year at Utah involve our talented and hard-working students – students like Teresa, a working mother of three who came to my office with the request that we help her finish her degree by improving the logistics of our course schedule (she had required gateway courses that were scheduled both early in the morning and late in the day), and Mitch, who was arranging special permission to take the two remaining courses that he needed to graduate even though they overlapped about 20 minutes. I imagine that Mitch’s professors were as horrified by that request as I was, but even more concerned about deterring his aim of degree completion if they did not approve the request.
When I met Teresa and Mitch, I recognized the scheduling challenges that every major university faces. Departments build their own schedules, often without consultation with other academic units (because there is no central mechanism for such consultation), and driven by faculty and space availability. A key difference, though, is that our students face unique challenges as they strive to complete their baccalaureates. Nearly all of our undergraduates are working, and many have family commitments while earning their degrees. More than other research universities, we need a coherent academic course schedule, one that makes use of the vast data that we have about student enrollment patterns and builds a predictable, empirically-driven academic schedule that facilitates student success. Complete College America includes structured, predictable blocks of courses (i.e., related core courses offered in efficient time sequences that adhere to a scheduling grid) as one of their “game changers” in accelerating full-time enrollment and promoting degree completion.
We are fortunate to have an exceptional team of leaders working to enhance strategic scheduling at the University of Utah. Co-chaired by Professor Ann Darling and Assistant VP Sharon Aiken-Wisnewski, talented department chairs, advisors, faculty, and other staff members are working to build a better schedule for our institution. You can find the charge letter and team members at the following link. This is challenging work, and the S4I team is depending on our help to implement their ideas for enhancing the student experience. Here’s a quick note from Ann and Sharon on their progress to date. To date, the committee has focused on detailed process and data analysis, addressing questions such as:
• What are the most common course enrollment patterns for our undergraduates?
• How does the course scheduling process work at the U and could it be improved?
• How does the availability of classroom space interact with scheduling patterns?
• What are demonstrated best practices nationally in scheduling that promotes student success and degree completion?
As the S4I team continues their work, subcommittees will consider options for (a) creating efficient scheduling blocks, (b) improved scheduling for high enrollment courses and majors, and (c) an integrative and collaborative multi-year process for developing the campus course schedule.
Thanks for your partnership in this important Student Success effort! Stay in touch for more information about the S4I effort, and thanks in advance for your efforts to promote student success.