The founder and CEO of Ad Astra, a company using data mining technology to help colleges and universities improve their quality for students, suggested that colleges redesign schedules so that more students are able to enroll in the courses they need to graduate and get a job.
In a recent piece published in Inside Higher Ed, founder and CEO of Ad Astra Tom Shaver recommends that institutions of higher learning make it easier for students to “get the courses they need to continue to move toward graduation and ultimately employment,” as many students face unprecedented problems in the wake of the Chinese virus pandemic.
“With incoming students, it’s unclear whether the crisis will scare them off or if enrollment will grow in the fall, as it typically does during a recession when millions of jobless Americans suddenly find themselves searching for new skills,” writes Shaver, adding that schedule building and registration “must be rethought in this environment.”
The CEO goes on to suggest that this is especially important because if life were to quickly change for students — and they suddenly find themselves homeschooling children or stocking shelves at a grocery store during a pandemic — they should be able to “move more quickly” through their degree program “and into a new job.”
“Institutions should focus on providing access to courses based on need, not credits,” writes Shaver. “This can help reduce the impact of bottleneck courses — which can be a massive barrier to degree completion.”
According to the California State University system, “bottleneck” courses are defined as “anything that limits students’ ability to make progress toward graduation,” which might be considered core curriculum — classes that students typically take in their first year of college, which are considered basic — or more advanced courses.
Shaver also describes bottleneck courses as necessary classes that are harder for students to get into because there is a high demand and limited capacity.
“Our research shows that nearly a quarter of all courses are overloaded, signaling they may be bottlenecked,” writes Shaver. “And those percentages may grow as COVID-19’s disruption pushes students toward certain courses at the same time that budget cuts force colleges to cut sections.”
“With better data, institutions could redesign their operations to focus more on helping students whose lives have been disrupted or were already complicated prior to this crisis,” he adds. “They can do so, in part, by ensuring that early access to classes is given to students based on need, not arbitrary credit or year thresholds.”
Shaver argues that if this does not become a priority, students raising children or who otherwise live “complex” lives, then “being shut out of a required course can mean an additional semester or year in college.”
“It can mean more debt,” adds Shaver. “It can mean they never graduate.”