Chances are, you’ve had faculty members propose courses that don’t fit the regular schedule. Maybe they want different days than the typical course pattern, a compressed course within the regular term, or a summer class that goes beyond the regular summer term. How much flexibility does your institution allow? If you wanted to offer more, what would work?
Members of The Successful Registrar’s Advisory Board participated in a conference call to discuss what they offer — or would like to offer — in the way of flexible scheduling.
At George Mason University, academic units are seeking one-week courses between terms; courses that meet on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; and courses scheduled when teachers are on break, said University Registrar Eve Dauer. Some of those requests have been met. But Dauer wants to make alternative scheduling a more formal process than it is now so that there won’t be any questions about whether students will be able to use their Veterans Administration benefits or qualify for financial aid.
At Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, faculty members have flexibility in scheduling courses so long as the courses meet for the correct number of hours, said Eliott Baker, executive director of academic records, summer school and graduate studies. In Banner, it’s possible to designate parts of the term to accommodate faculty needs, Baker said. Baker has tried to limit the number of parts of the term that have been designated and encourages faculty to work with options that are available. Currently, there are parts of the term that last one-third and one-half of the term. Several summer options are available. For example, there is a “full summer” option. If a faculty member’s course doesn’t fit into the other options, it is designated as being in the full summer term, even if it doesn’t last all summer.
If faculty members want flexibility for times at SRU, their requests are met on a space-available basis. For example, classrooms during the fall and spring semester are booked solid until 2 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with traditionally scheduled courses. If faculty members want to schedule classes after 2 p.m., they can usually arrange options such as a class that meets for longer on Monday and Wednesday but does not meet on Friday afternoon.
At the University of Delaware, the board of trustees has approved only a set number of terms, so courses need to fit in those options. But faculty members have some flexibility, said University Registrar Jeff Palmer. For example, in the summer there are two five-week sessions and a 10-week session that spans the two five-week sessions. But the education and nursing programs offer two-week courses, and they are coded for the session during which grades are assigned.
UD also offers a four-week winter session within its five-week winter session. That option was created because students weren’t signing up for the five-week session and preferred an extra week of winter break and a more compressed course.
At the Berklee College of Music, classes follow a traditional 15-week schedule, said Ari Kaufman, associate registrar for operations. The institution uses the Colleague student information system. It provides the technical capability to create alternative terms, but officials have not chosen to use that capability.
In the summer, the college offers three-week sessions for nonmatriculated students. Those have helped the institution get better utilization of the space on campus, although there’s still a quiet time at the end of the summer when the campus space use is not very high.
Address challenges of partial-term courses
If your institution schedules courses beyond the traditional term or is considering doing so, make sure you address these issues:
- Financial aid. Courses need to be scheduled in ways that don’t cause financial aid problems. Financial aid reports off the term. For example, for financial aid purposes, it’s significant whether a student took 12 hours during the summer, and the entire summer counts as one unit, Baker said.
- Prerequisites. One challenge that half-term courses raise is how to monitor whether students passed prerequisites they took in the first half of the term for courses they are registered for in the second half of the term, Dauer said.
At Walden University, where Dauer formerly worked, officials posted grades for half-semester courses at the half-term point. They also reviewed whether students had passed prerequisites and pulled them out of courses if they had not. The problem was that by the time the reports were complete, students had to change classes a few days into the term.
At Slippery Rock, only a few departments offer half-term courses, so it’s up to department administrators to monitor prerequisites, Baker said.
- Grade posting/academic status. At Slippery Rock, officials don’t review student records to determine probation and suspension until the end of the term. But there are arguments for determining probation and suspension midway through the semester for students who took compressed courses, and officials at other institutions might make a decision to do that, Baker said.
Academic status is determined at the end of the semester at UD as well, Palmer said. In fact, at UD, grades are posted at the end of the semester, even for courses that ended earlier in the term. If students need documentation before the term ends, say for reimbursement, Palmer’s office will write a letter for them.
Slippery Rock used to hold grades until the end of the term, but enough students needed their final grades for reimbursement that Baker’s office started posting them midsemester.
- Admission/graduation. SRU added a graduation date for the winter term but doesn’t graduate students who complete requirements in the middle of a semester until the semester ends.
At GMU, Dauer is proposing that students can be admitted or graduate at the half term. She would like to see six graduation dates.
At UD, students cannot be admitted or graduate in the middle of a term, Palmer said.
Consider challenges of courses that extend beyond term
Faculty members at SRU have scheduled courses that ran past the end of the summer term. To avoid holding up grades for other students, faculty members who teach those courses assign their students incompletes when the term ends and then replace them with grades when the courses end. And courses that run past the end of the term have to start within the term at SRU so that they can be counted in that term for financial aid and veteran’s benefits.
Some academic units at GMU wanted to backdate degrees for students who completed their programs in courses that ran past the end of the term. When Dauer became registrar, she made it clear that that could not happen.