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New Solutions For Student Scheduling

New web-based scheduling technology can improve operational efficiency and student service
University Business, June 2015

Many institutions are challenged to raise graduation rates and increase service to their students, but what is often overlooked is the important role of improving outdated and inefficient registration processes in meeting these goals. In this web seminar, presenters discussed new solutions for student scheduling that can benefit both students and institutions of any size, and how The Ohio State University has implemented a web-based scheduling program to improve graduation rates, offer more class options to students, create a more student-friendly registration process and improve academic operations.

ROBERT STRAZZARINO
CEO
College Scheduler

For some students who are graduating in four to five years, there may have been schedules available that would have enabled them to graduate in four. The problem is, they just can’t find them. They cannot see everything that you are offering because of the typical manual trial-and-error process that they have to use. Our software looks through every possible combination of classes and has up-to-the-minute seat information. It examines all classes and how they go together to provide open, conflict-free schedules for students.

JACK MINER
Director of Operations of Enrollment Services and University Registrar
The Ohio State University

Ohio State is a large urban university, with about 58,000 students. Part of the unique challenge when it comes to scheduling courses is the fact that we have five regional campuses. All of the courses and classes for those regional campuses are part of our student information system. We don’t operate as independent units; we operate as one university. We have 15 different colleges, 200 undergraduate majors and more than 250 graduate programs or professional programs.

One of the challenges we faced was that students were unhappy with the interface of our student information system. Our SIS does a lot of good things for us; but from a student service standpoint, students were advancing in their expectations quicker than the software could keep up. We knew we weren’t able to create a solution internally. When we started looking for a tool, we realized that there was a lot of incorrect information out in the marketplace. There was a web-based vendor a few years ago which offered a website that would do a screen scrape of data from Ohio State’s master schedule, and push that information out to students. Students were using that to build their own schedule. Basically, they were going out and finding a solution because we weren’t able to deliver one.

The problem was that the information out there was incorrect. We looked at this as an opportunity to improve our graduation rates, and to increase how many credit hours a student was taking each term, because by making the scheduling process easier and easier to understand, they were able to fit more classes into their day logistically. Think about a course, such as English 110 or Math 115. Within that course you may have 100 sections or individual classes. College Scheduler allows the students to pick the courses that are important to them, and then it will give them the best schedule. Then students can begin to set priorities for which classes they would like to lock in, a specific time of day that they’d like to avoid, or a specific instructor they’d prefer to have. College Scheduler narrows that down from what, in some cases, could be over 1,000 combinations to the 2 or 3 that are ideal for that individual student.

College Scheduler also integrates within our SIS. That’s great for us because we know that the data is always updating. So we run an update a couple times a day that updates section adds and drops. But individual seat numbers—how many people are enrolled in the class at a given time—are essentially live data. The way we’ve set up the interface, students enter our registration system within our SIS, and then see the option to use College Scheduler within their student information area. At the end of the process they click a button which imports all of that information back into the SIS, and their shopping cart is then filled. We can run any of the enrollment requirements, or any other pieces required from a security standpoint for the student. It’s been a great opportunity for us to make it essentially seamless from the students’ standpoint. The other important piece was what the implementation model would be. I mentioned how we couldn’t have afforded to make these changes on our own. It would have been such a fundamental change within the SIS and it wouldn’t have been just a one-time implementation; but we would have had to do that with each bundle. So, for us that would have been a multiyear commitment to be able to even launch that, let alone support it.

By utilizing a private partnership, it was a great opportunity for us to be able to implement quickly. One of the unique things about the partnership with College Scheduler is they actually work with our developers through conference calls and webinars to do the installations. So even as intricate and involved as Ohio State was, even through all of the security hurdles that we made the company jump through, we were still able to have the software up and running in a few weeks to months, where as a smaller institution or another institution may have even been able to do it within days to weeks. We did a soft rollout with students and they loved it from the beginning. Most institutions that look at this product are trying to increase the number of credit hours that students are taking each semester. So, essentially, what they are trying to do is get students to take one more class and fit it into their work or school schedule. For those institutions, that ends up becoming increased revenue, increased time to degree. For us, because we were doing this as part of a quarter-to-semester conversion, we were essentially just trying to maintain our status quo. And we were successful in that.

We’ve witnessed a variety of benefits from implementing College Scheduler. The first was the opportunity for students to be able to fit more classes into their schedule. Students received this well. It was a great opportunity to improve stability for them. And it was also a great opportunity to improve the interface that they use. One feature within College Scheduler is something called enrollment optimization. That allows an institution to choose which section of a course they want to highlight. In Ohio State’s case, one of the things we would be able to do is if we have 15 sections of Math 100, I can actually highlight one of those classes so it’s the first thing that shows up for students, or it shows up more often in the combination, or when a student runs the combination, it’s rated higher. That’s a great opportunity for us because we’ve been able to use that for staffing. Institutions are able to use that for planning.

The other piece you have access to is reporting. You can actually see course demand reports, section demand reports and detailed reports on the student breaks. Since our early adoption of College Scheduler, one service we asked for was academic advisor support. This has been an opportunity for the advisors to go in as the student and make some selections for them. That’s been useful for us in a couple of ways, and then it’s also been useful for other institutions in a number of other ways. We use that on a regular basis from an advising standpoint. But that’s also something that a number of institutions have started to use as part of their orientation program. It’s a great way to control what courses new students take while giving them some amount of liberty to choose what time and day combination they take those classes in.

Strazzarino: I wanted to give you an overview of the company. I started College Scheduler in 2005. It took a little while to catch on; the first few institutions were essentially pioneers. So the first 50 schools took about six years, and then the second 50 took one year. We’ve been growing rapidly. We started last year working with 75 institutions. We’re up to 135 today, including community colleges, technical colleges and universities of every size.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to http://www.universitybusiness.com/ws032415

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