Learning

Bill Krane

Course availability under scrutiny

November 14, 2007

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By Diane Luckow

Deteriorating course availability is a chronic issue that associate VP-academic Bill Krane is working to vanquish. 

In recent fall semesters, as many as 20 per cent of students were unable to enroll in the number of courses they wanted, while almost half were unable to register in all of the specific courses they desired.

What’s more, students in upper division courses are fighting for fewer seats than there are students — 54 per cent of registered students in the fall 2006 semester who were in at least the third year of their program were scrambling for 42 per cent of available upper division seats.

It’s a serious problem, acknowledges Krane, that’s not limited to its impact on students. Reduced student credit-loads hinder meeting the university’s enrolment targets and could decrease tuition-fee revenues.

He’s hopeful that a new report on course availability, which poses 14 recommendations, will help to address the issue although, he notes, "there’s no magic bullet as a solution; it’s very complex and solutions will vary depending on the discipline and the faculty."

Contributing to the problem are the very attributes that make SFU desirable to students — such as deferred declaration of a major as late as the eighth semester and the diversity of courses available to students across all programs.

"We’re a larger and more complex institution now, with a greater diversity in programming and new programs being added every month," says Krane. "When we introduce that level of complexity using old operating principles and methods, it doesn’t work."

As a result, university administrators are contemplating some dramatic changes. "To get students through their program in a timely manner we may have to sacrifice a bit of choice," says Krane. And faculty preferences for course times and offerings may receive a lower priority.

The course-availability report pinpoints several popular programs in which course scheduling is particularly problematic: business, communications, criminology, English, kinesiology and psychology. Administrators will be taking a keen look at some of these programs immediately, says Krane.

The report recommends offering such high-demand classes more often and in larger sections, and that they have consistent start and end times to minimize conflicts with other classes through the week. It also recommends enhancing the SIMS computerized waitlist system, implementing mandatory and consistent use of waitlists across the university, expanding distance and on-line course offerings and allowing students to register for courses several semesters in advance.

A scheduling policy passed by senate 18 months ago identifies new scheduling priorities that may also address some conflict issues, such as giving classroom space priority to academic courses over other activities. These cannot be implemented, however, until the SIMS system is modified, a project that must compete with other SIMS priorities.

To see the complete report visit www.sfu.ca/irp/special_reports/documents/course.availability.2007.pdf.

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