Thursday, October 24, 2013
What if We Never Cancelled Classes?
I was astounded when I saw some of the data behind our scheduling. The statistics for things like the fraction of students who transfer in the middle of a sequence is really stable over many years. The number who enroll in the fall is much less predictable.
Where it really worked well for us was when we promised that we will teach what might look like niche classes during specific semesters or times (e.g. at night) and not cancel if the enrollment is low. An example from the math side might be differential equations, a class many used to take after transfer. It turned out that once it was predictable, students were advised to make long-term plans that included it and enrollment grew.
For individual courses, there's a federal mandate that gets in the way. Our bookstore gets after professors to get the text orders in very early (such as the middle of October for classes beginning in January). Their impatience isn't with Fed Ex or the Postal Service, it's because of some requirement that the book requirements be made available to students well in advance.
So the requirements are met, the book lists are on the web site, the students can decide whether the text required for Differential Equations is too expensive or too hard, and the section doesn't make.
Effect is significant for older folks, who grew up with paper, but a also noticeable in current students, who are much more used to electronic reading.
We are well aware of the many problems of adding a section late, especially if it is filled with last-minute enrollees. One thing that we do is keep really good data on the rate of enrollment during the various registration and orientation periods over many years. That is used to help guide decisions on when to open up "hidden" sections, so they can be available as early as possible.
I was glad to see you have data on whether students whose small class gets cancelled will enroll elsewhere. That is also a financial issue, as you note. Do you provide direct assistance to place those students in a replacement class? Collecting data about when that is problematical might tell you what day/time/class combos should not be cancelled (or even scheduled in the first place!) and which can.