Improve Equity Outcomes Through Scheduling Efficiency
Using the course schedule as an effective tool for student success
- In year 1 gateway math, completion for all students rose from 28% to 37%. Hispanic and Black students rose from 22% to 33%.
- In year 1 gateway English, completion for all students rose from 56% to 57%.
Scheduling is tough and the impact of an ineffective schedule on students is substantial
Achieving scheduling effectiveness requires a process of continuous improvement. In the 1980s, the University Course Timetable Problem formally assessed the quandary of real-world scheduling by asking a big question. How do you optimally assign students, courses, and teachers without knowing the following?
- 1. The complete knowledge of what every student wants to take
- 2. What every faculty member wants to teach, where, and at what time
- 3. Knowing the complete and unchangeable timetable of when classrooms are available
Because it’s next to impossible to know all of these variables at once, the problem was deemed unsolvable. But there are real-world repercussions for students and institutions when better schedules aren’t available. Schedules that don’t work with a student’s life translate into taking fewer classes each term. Delayed progress means a two-year degree can stretch into three years along with additional time and money constraints. Students are also more likely drop out or to stop out and look for another institution that offers a more flexible schedule. Effective scheduling must also balance often conflicting issues of faculty availability, class size, space utilization, program requirements, and student preferences.
Improving student success by streamlining courses and maximizing enrollment
Mathematician Dr. John Hamman, Montgomery College, Rockville, Maryland, wasn’t ready to take “unsolvable” for an answer. Hamman knew scheduling can and should be improved and that an effective schedule can positively impact accelerated completion and Degree Velocity® to produce more equitable outcomes and higher completion rates.
Hamman understood schedules that promote increased access and flexibility can be an effective tool to help colleges retain students and graduate students faster. Using disaggregated data, Montgomery College sought to create a path that would make scheduling impactful for as many students as possible. This process began by looking at enrollment, bottlenecked courses, Degree Velocity®, seat utilization, percent of balanced courses, and data from the Higher Education Scheduling Index (HESI), which allows for benchmarking against other years and comparison against other colleges.
“You need to have a plan for the data when you start to collect it and to know what metrics are important to you,” Hamman said.
Pathways are another strategic way to connect an institution’s schedule with how students should complete classes term-by-term. Well-designed pathways can help students graduate faster, reduce unnecessary credits, and streamline costs. When used as the foundation of an annual schedule, pathway interaction ensures sustainable course offerings, maximizes enrollment, and creates a stable and repeatable annual schedule to meet student demand.
But don’t rely on data to tell the whole story. The data may show students are taking classes but is that because they want to take those classes or is it because that is only what’s available to them at that time? Student surveys can help determine what classes students want and when they want them. These answers, along with strong pathways and looking at disaggregated data, go a long way to creating an impactful schedule — one that will lead to the predictability students need to stay on course and graduate in a timely manner.
"The course schedule touches every student and every unit across the institution. Optimal course scheduling requires alignment across all stakeholders,” Hamman concluded.
“You need to have a plan for the data when you start to collect it and to know what metrics are important to you,
Chief Analytics and Insights Officer
Montgomery College, Rockville, Maryland, was founded in 1946. Located outside of Washington D.C., the multicampus institution serves 40,000 credit and non-credit students online and in-person at its three locations in Germantown, Rockville and Takoma Park/ Silver Springs. The college is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.