First-Year Course Scheduling

On August 16, 2004, Vicky Schankula of the University of Kentucky addressed the list looking for alternatives to a “first-come, first-served” approach to scheduling classes for first-year students. Tara Marandos replied that at Daniel Webster College the registrar complies first-semester schedules for first-year students. Angela Ruzzi explained the individual scheduling process that she created at The College of Saint Rose. Cathy Buyarski mentioned Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis' former practice of “front-loading” orientation with conditionally admitted students. Amy Stalzer of Georgia Tech responded with a detailed explanation of their dual approach to orientation and scheduling. Lastly, Joni Webb Petschauer of Appalachian State University suggested that although the “first-come, first-served” element may not be able to be eliminated, perhaps the university should explore its options and visit the many different elements that contribute to decisions regarding scheduling.

Vicky Schankula (read FYE post or send email)
Tara Marandos (read FYE post or send email)
Angela Ruzzi (read FYE post or send email)
Cathy Buyarski (read FYE post or send email)
Amy Stalzer (read FYE post or send email)
Joni Webb Petschauer (read FYE post or send email)

August 16, 2004 5:22pm
Original message: Looking for alternatives

Here at the University of Kentucky we have just enrolled our biggest ever Freshman class! Proud as we are about this, we cannot help but be aware of some of the challenges the students face in terms of scheduling classes. The model we use is probably similar to what happens at many other schools: Freshmen attend two-day Summer Advising Conferences with their parents, and each one leaves the conference with a schedule for the first semester. The Conferences extend over a five-week period and students are assigned to a conference in the order in which they apply. Inevitably classes fill up, and students coming to conferences at the end of the five weeks have less choice than those coming at the beginning of the summer, both in terms of class availability and times of day when sections are open.
What I am interested in is what alternatives there might be to the “first come, first served” approach we use to schedule Freshmen. I would be most grateful for your reaction, and any ideas you might be willing to share. Thanks in anticipation!

Vicky Schankula
Assistant Director
University of Kentucky
Central Advising
109 Miller Hall
Lexington, KY 40506-0035

August 17, 2004 8:35am
Re: Looking for alternatives

We have a smaller school, so this may not work for you, but one thing we do here at Daniel Webster is the incoming students (new or transfer) do not choose their own classes for the first semester they are here. Instead the registrar makes all of their schedules according to general ed requirements and their major. They are able to add/drop after they receive it, but most don't because classes are taken. After their first semester they are able to register with everyone else.

Tara K. Marandos
Director of Academic Resources
Daniel Webster College
20 University Drive
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 577-6612

August 17, 2004 8:46am
Re: Looking for alternatives

We only have about 600 new freshmen so I'm not sure what we do will be feasible for you. But, we changed our system for the reasons you mentioned. We (I) create a schedule for each new freshman based on their major, our lib ed core, some input from them on a worksheet where they indicate preferences (i.e. Spanish or Italian, Religion or Philosophy). When we get to the last 200 students, it gets challenging but it's easier for everyone (including the student). We give them their schedules at summer orientation and explain that every course on it will fulfill a requirement toward graduation; that college is a time to learn and expose one self to new and different ideas, thoughts, etc....

It is a major undertaking but in the end, I think it saves a lot of frustration. This system also allows to identify what areas may need to add courses and allows us to do so in a timely manner.

I would be happy to talk to you if you'd like. Again, I'm not sure this is feasible with an institution your size but maybe some version of it could help.

Angela Ruzzi
Director of Academic Advisement
The College of Saint Rose
(518) 454-5217
(518) 458-5428 FAX #

August 17, 2004 9:23am
Re: Looking for alternatives

We conduct orientation in a similar manner, however, in the past we have front loaded orientation dates with students who were conditionally admitted. Our rationale was that these students were most in need of course loads that supported their academic success (versus getting whatever was available). We discontinued this practice only because our data showed that conditional admits came to orientation early anyway so we didn't need to reserve special spaces for them.

Hope this helps.

Cathy Buyarski, Ph.D.
Director, University College Advising Center
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
815 W. Michigan Street, UC 3007
Indianapolis, IN 46202
(317) 278-4722 [phone]
(317)278-7588 [fax]

August 17, 2004 9:39am
Re: Looking for alternatives

At Georgia Tech we use a dual approach for a similar orientation set-up. We have five two-day freshman orientation sessions, the last one being just before the start of classes for students traveling a great distance. Prior to orientation season, the Registrar's Office pre-registers freshmen for anywhere between 2 and 4 classes, depending on major and AP/Transfer credits. There is a certain order they do the registration in, for majors that require a certain sequence to begin at the first semester, etc. And, when it gets down to the end of the order (usually Undecideds), they do some manual registration to make sure that everyone has a set of 2-4 starter class.

The second component to this process occurs during orientation: departments with elective courses hold seats for each orientation session. The Registrar's Office assists this by releasing a certain number of seats every thirty minutes during registration, during each orientation. Thus they may allow out 20 seats per orientation session in history, releasing 5 seats every thirty minutes for 2 hours. At the end of the fifth orientation, they have filled their 100 seat class. At this time, the freshmen are also picking up core classes that other freshmen are dropping from their pre-registrations, although we warn freshmen that once they drop something, they may not be able to pick it up again. We highly discourage rearranging for a better time slot.

This second component is key, as students must finish the registration process by having at least a full load before leaving orientation. At the same time, it keeps the system fair for those attending the last orientation session of the summer. We are **extremely lucky** in having such a wonderful Registrar's staff who are dedicated to keeping the process fair.

(The last phase of registration happens during the first week of school, and we do have many freshmen who will try and pick up classes--particularly core classes with limited seats such as chemistry--during this time period when everyone is actively on the system).

Hope this adds another perspective.

Amy Stalzer
Director of FASET Orientation
Georgia Tech

August 17, 2004 8:42am
Re: Looking for alternatives

There may not be anything you can do about the "first come, first serve" element but you can explore processes that demonstrate to students and families that the campus is committed to accommodating the students it accepts in appropriate classes. Depending on the who sees this as a problem to solve, here are a few ideas to consider -- open communication among lots of folks is a must.

  1. Visit the curriculum -- often department chairs are asked to find faculty (instructors, part-timers) to teach courses for a curriculum that the faculty is not committed to teaching. The difficulty in finding seats for typical first year courses is often feedback that the courses are not valued. Is there a need for a mix of face-to-face and/or on-line course delivery?
  2. Visit the advising/orientation process -- do you need to wait until the first face-to-face encounter (in the summer) with a student to begin the scheduling process? Could students provide information to advisors through a form, phone call or an on-line database in April or May of their senior year in high school that could be used to develop a tentative schedule of classes prior to Orientation? The chairs would know more about course demand earlier and the Orientation session could be used to confirm or modify a course or two in the schedule based on new information. Some campuses provide spring open houses or spring orientation programs and use these meetings as schedule building opportunities
  3. Visit the budget -- are there any enrollment increase funds that can be used to support the provision of additional course sections at the freshman level?
  4. Visit the faculty development center (teaching excellence center) -- the campus might have to move to larger sections of high demand courses - what support do they need?
  5. Visit the schedule of classes --- is there a true spread of sections across the day? What would happen if you revisited the notion of a 3-2 week (Mon/Wed/Fri and Tues/Thurs) schedule set. Check out the alternative ideas for scheduling classes that Syracuse developed. Also, consider reserving spaces in courses for freshmen only.
  6. Visit your placement tests -- how can you use this information to predict demand?
  7. Vist your Institutional Research and/or Registrar -- can you run programs that truly show trend data about typical course schedules and what results can you determine about student success from those schedules? (You don't want to ask for a lot of seats in courses that are inappropriate for first year students.)

Congratulations on the work your campus has done to enroll students in higher education. Good luck with your efforts to meet the needs of your students.

Take care.
Joni Webb Petschauer
Director, Freshman Learning Communities in General Studies
Appalachian State University
Boone, NC 28608