Strategic Scheduling for Student Success Initiative (S4I)

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.

Advancing our Agenda with Educational Technology

At the close of a talk with a community group last week, I was asked if I was worried about the future of traditional institutions, like the University of Utah, with online competitors gaining acceptance with employers and offering credentials and degrees at lower cost. The question was a little surprising, given that the group was mostly senior citizens interested in the university but not directly linked to it. Clearly, the dialogue about disruption in higher education – the perspective that traditional, residential institutions of higher education are vulnerable to displacement by lower cost online courses and degrees – is underway both within and beyond the academy.  My view is that the advances in learning technologies offer significant opportunities for us at the University of Utah to consider how online teaching and learning can promote our goal of student success and how we might strategically capitalize on innovations in online education to strengthen our institution.

Ray Schroeder Chairs Online Learning Initiative Group

> Ray Schroeder chairs Online Learning Initiative Group

The U has a significant portfolio of online courses and a few online certificate and degree programs. In Fall 2013, 28 percent of our students enrolled in at least one course, as a supplement to their face-to-face courses. Clearly, our students are attracted to online learning opportunities, most likely for the flexibility afforded by online courses, given our students’ substantial work and family obligations.

What are the strategic next steps for our online portfolio, and which institutional goals could be advanced through strategic growth?

•    Expanded online offerings, particularly critical upper-division courses in large enrollment majors, when appropriate for course content, could facilitate our undergraduates’ timely degree completion.
•    Consistency, quality, and access in core gateway math, science, and writing courses could be enhanced through well-designed online courses and/or discussion sections.
•    Access to a U of U certificate or baccalaureate program, in an area of particular demand, could be provided to rural, under-served areas of Utah and the intermountain region through online programming. The BS Nursing program is an example of an existing U of U online program that is meeting critical needs in Utah and beyond. One-year professional masters programs in allied health, business, and data analytics are examples of high-demand degrees that may be a fit for our faculty.

What are the barriers to U faculty, programs, and departments moving in some of these promising directions with online education? Certainly, we will need to improve our infrastructure to support faculty as they explore and expand online educational opportunities, including instructional design support and increased opportunities for learning about how online teaching and learning can be optimized. In addition, we need seed funding to help programs and departments develop high quality courses, certificates, and programs in online and/or hybrid formats. Finally, we need to apply a strategic lens to the efforts in which we invest, in order to use early successes to create momentum and a financial base for continued investments.

To meet these needs and begin the design of a strategic online portfolio for the U, we have developed an RFP process to bring forward innovative ideas and identify departments and programs particularly interested in expanding online offerings. I hope that you will consider this opportunity, not because of anxiety about disruption in higher education, but because of the opportunities that online education can afford us, to better meet the needs of our students, to expand access to high-quality Utah programs, and to strengthen our resource base to drive up quality across the institution. I look forward to working with you to move the U from being engaged in online education to leading innovation in quality online learning.

Request for Proposal Documentation and Process Details  (PDF)
Proposal Coversheet Template (Word doc)