- Two-thirds of colleges are thinking about the courses students will need to complete their degrees on time when they build their schedules, according to a survey released Tuesday by Ad Astra, a scheduling software and analytics provider.
- Meanwhile, 51% said they considered when they could offer courses to help students avoid conflicts in their schedules, and 30% looked at balancing in-person, online and hybrid courses.
- Almost two-thirds of respondents, 65%, said they use retention rates and enrollment ratios to gauge the effectiveness of a course schedule. Just 26% said they weighed the rate of students withdrawing or earning Ds or Fs, called the DFW rate. The DFW rate tends to be higher for online courses than it is for on-campus courses, and it's higher among students taking fewer credit hours.
How and when to schedule classes is a key consideration as colleges seek a path forward in the years after COVID-19 broke out. The pandemic added a new layer of complexity to class scheduling by prompting high interest in digital learning.
It also shifted enrollment patterns, at least temporarily. Enrollment is down across higher education since the start of the pandemic, with community colleges and transfer enrollment hit particularly hard.
In light of that landscape, it can be helpful for college leaders to know what vendors are seeing — and what solutions they're promoting — in addition to examining larger analyses from government agencies and other organizations looking at factors affecting student enrollment and persistence.
Ad Astra's report includes information from a survey with 687 responses from vice presidents, registrars, provosts, academic chairs and faculty heads. Most represent public institutions, with 241 from public two-year institutions and 260 from public four-year institutions. Another 158 were at four-year private colleges. The company then compared survey responses with data from 150 of its clients.
"Today’s students are willing to supplement their on-ground education through online, hybrid, or hyflex courses when given the option, which reinforces our findings that the conversation around modality has forever changed," said a report on the results. "Achieving student success will increasingly demand the ability to compare data to actual student behavior in order to best serve students and effectively and efficiently manage the academic enterprise."
Nine out of 10 two-year institutions and 57% of four-year institutions are serving mostly part-time students, Ad Astra found. Two-year institutions were more likely to enroll part-time students than were four-year institutions.
Just 64% of students at Ad Astra's four-year public university clients were enrolled on a full-time basis in 2021, down from 66.8% two years prior. The share of full-time enrollment at public two-year colleges also slipped in that time to 30.1%, down from 31.2% two years prior.
Students took 14.6% fewer credits in fall 2021 than they did two years prior, before the pandemic's arrival, Ad Astra found. That echoes long-standing concerns that many students aren't taking enough credits to graduate on time.
Over half of colleges Ad Astra surveyed, 55%, said they use centralized planning or hybrid planning when building schedules. The remaining 45% said they have no plans to do so. Ad Astra argues centralized planning can create consistent processes and efficient use of space. But talk of centralization of any kind often sparks fears of lost faculty autonomy in higher education.
Ad Astra also called for publishing multi-term course schedules so that students are clear about their paths to completing college.
"At too many schools, regardless of resources, course schedules are not student-centric," the company's founder and CEO, Tom Shaver, wrote in a letter at the beginning of the report. "They are too often created to meet the needs of a type of student — one with ample time and money — who wants to explore and doesn’t need a clear path to completion. This type now represents a small minority of the students in higher education.”