San Diego in February is a great place to gather to discuss student success, pathways and course scheduling. As colleges grapple with a diversifying student body, and more emphasis is being placed on graduation rates and employability, companies like Ad Astra are working with institutions to find new ways to use space and time.
I consider access to higher education to be one of the most important missions of The Center for Higher Education Leadership. As a first-generation student, I have experienced the struggle of trying to finance an education while working long hours and balancing family demands. More students like me are entering our system of higher education every year. There is also increasing demand coming from adult learners who want to take college courses to gain new skills.
In our January 15th newsletter, contributor Lisa Hunter explained the ways that student centered strategic scheduling can improve student outcomes. My experience at Ad Astra’s 2020 Winter California Summit shows the importance of having a corporate partner that understands the institutional landscape, and is willing to create a flexible product that can adjust to programming from community colleges to large research universities.
One of the most important things I learned from attending the summit was that we need to rethink how we define student success. Many of the attendees come from community colleges where a significant number of students want to take a few courses and aren’t planning to complete a degree. We need to bring in the student side of the equation when we are talking about success. Graduation rates can’t be our only measure of outcomes. Community colleges shouldn’t be penalized with funding cuts when they are such an important component of an education system where students are looking for inexpensive ways to improve their skills.
The 2018 academic year was a tough one for California community colleges. The legislature cut the budget for community colleges while allowing increased fees as noted in a 2018 article, “fee hikes will not be sufficient in making up the entire shortfall. Community colleges will be forced to looking at other cost-cutting measures statewide, including a reduction of services, larger class sizes and longer wait lists for the most in-demand courses. The primary loser in these decisions will be the students, although numerous faculty members will find themselves without their jobs as well.”
The good news is that there are innovative leaders in many colleges across California that are successfully dealing with the combined challenge of budget cuts and the needs of diverse, working students. They are using scheduling software like that designed by Ad Astra (and others, like College Scheduler) to find new ways to utilize space, including on evenings and Saturdays that allow them to maximize class offerings, while also accommodating faculty schedules.
Another issue discussed during the summit was the important of getting faculty buy-in for refocusing scheduling to make it more student-centered. It is important to gain an understanding of the ways that scheduling processes can be realigned to meet the needs of both students and faculty. One problem I faced as an administrator was faculty availability. It is important to be sensitive to the needs of faculty members who have long commutes, or childcare responsibilities. One solution is to develop a course request and scheduling process that uses data and has enough flexibility to allow administrators to avoid cancelling classes that don’t get enough enrollment and having too many classes that are over-enrolled.
This process is still an art, that is informed by data and science. Dealing with multiple campuses and online courses throw even more variables into the mix. We are living in the era of big data and it is important that administrators are open to evidence-based change, but the human element is a key factor to the changes that are necessary for higher education to serve students in the 21st century.
About the author
Terri E. Givens is the former Provost at Menlo College in the San Francisco Bay Area; Professor of Government and European studies at The University of Texas at Austin; Vice Provost overseeing undergraduate curriculum and spearheading global initiatives as its chief international officer. She formed The Center for Higher Education Leadership (CHEL) to provide academic leaders with information and a supportive community for improving management and leadership skills in an environment of changing demographics, financial challenges, and advances in educational technology. CHEL was born of Terri’s experiences navigating these fields and learning along her journey through academe, from professor to vice-provost and provost at universities in Texas and California.