Life, Logistics, and the Impact of College Scheduling

Mark Milliron Catalytic Conversations Civitas Learning Space

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student with college scheduler I vividly remember my own experiences wrestling with the challenges of course scheduling as a nontraditional student. My friends and I would literally sleep overnight in line at our community college to be the first ones to access ‘drop add’ when it opened the next morning. We brought lawn furniture and battery-powered TVs to make it through the night, because by the morning light, there would be over a thousand students in line, many of whom were struggling with the same challenges we were: life, logistics and course scheduling. As working students, we just couldn’t make our schedules fit our needs. We were almost always scrambling to get the last course at the last minute. We had similar challenges when we transferred to universities. Some things have changed since then, of course. But college scheduling is still a major challenge for millions of students. When you’re working with forward-thinking institutions committed to helping students learn well and finish strong, you learn a lot about how to take on these challenges. Indeed, we’ve committed to the idea of learning together by sharing our individual institutional learnings, along with benchmarking across the “Civitas.” I’ll be sharing some of the intriguing benchmarking data in my next post; however, for this one, I want to focus on some learning from leaders at individual institutions who have successfully tackled the challenge of course scheduling. We typically see students face any (or all) of three types of challenges as they strive to learn well and finish strong: (Type 1) academic challenges, e.g., being under prepared, math or writing issues, course sequences and structures, (Type 2) psycho-social challenges, e.g., being on purpose, mindset, belongingness, and (Type 3) life and logistic challenges, e.g., financial shortfalls, work conflicts, family responsibilities, and managing our bureaucracies. Building a course schedule that fits with complex life situations or within financial constraints is a particularly challenging Type 3 challenge for students. For more traditional 18-21 year-old students it can be as simple as finding the actual course schedule that fits their major requirements in a given semester’s class availability. For the growing non-traditional student population, it gets even more complicated as work, family, transportation, daycare, and finances often conspire to severely limit options and availability. Universities and Colleges leveraging the College Scheduler app have been working to help students with these challenges in particular. College Scheduler uses the best of today’s data strategies and consumer-app design to go directly to students to help them better optimize their schedules. Most students when working through course options limit their possibilities because of simple linear optimization—choosing first one course, then another, then another. Unless they have a beautiful mind like John Forbes Nash,Jr.,  most students can’t do what advanced analytics can do to match options to availability (think Priceline travel options). College Scheduler asks them about their life constraints, work schedules, calendar availability, and modality interests and then does a data run against the available course-schedule combinations and comes back with schedule options in visible displays that help students find the right fit. Options they didn’t know were available pop out and schedule balancing choices they weren’t able to previously consider become visible. student persistence increase graphicSeveral of Civitas Learning’s partner institutions have been using the College Scheduler app to help their students. And because these institutions have our Student Insights Platform™ in place, they can test the persistence and graduation impact of this action application, along with their other policy and practice innovations. This synergy of insight and action analytics can help institutional leaders turn the DIAL (more on that here) to learn more about what’s working and what’s not and for whom. Using our student-level predictions and patent-pending prediction-based propensity score matching to control for selection bias, we’re already seeing strong results for College Scheduler, including significantly positive persistence results at a large, urban community college and significantly positive graduation results at a large R1 university.

Civitas Learning’s data scientists and the team at College Scheduler found at the community college partner, students who used College Scheduler experienced term-over-term persistence rise by as much as 1.59 percentage points. The same students were also able to enroll in an average of 1.31 more credits per term. And at the university partner, graduation rates improved by an average of 2.73 percentage points for students who used College Scheduler compared to those who did not. This impact increased to as much as 3.51 percentage points for students who used College Scheduler consistently over three or more terms. 

results at 2 year college increase graduatThere’s more to come from these leading institutions committed to helping students on their learning journeys, but these data are both significant (in terms of p values and importance) and promising. We’ll be writing this up in full for the research community to dive deeper on the data with us. But these early findings make it clear that we can absolutely help our students manage their Type 3 life and logistic issues, especially around college scheduling. My favorite thing about direct-to-student apps like College Scheduler, however, is that they have the intuitive, “where was that when I was a student?” appeal. It’s what we all know we needed in our college days and what current students are more than ready for today. Indeed, we’ve seen the same impact with our Degree Map app studies. But more important, it is proving that we can work together to build the right infrastructure to get the right data to the right people in the right way, and as a result help more and more students successfully navigate their learning journeys.