by Greta Petry (December
UAlbany Responds to Need for Gen Ed Seats
This summer, when freshmen were advised and registered prior to coming to campus for orientation, for the first time in recent memory, they all got into the classes they wanted. That was no accident.
Over the past two years, the University at Albany has made significant improvements in the manner in which it tracks the supply and demand for undergraduate courses. It has made particular strides in providing courses that meet General Education requirements.
"Through the efforts of the General Education Committee, we have added more than 2,600 seats for our General Education program" through existing courses for the 2006-2007 academic year, said Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Sheila Mahan. In addition, the University has added 3,000 new seats for the fall semester and more than 2,000 seats for spring.
Student Association President Nick Chiuchiolo said, "I believe that Academic Affairs has made a tremendous effort in enhancing course availability. Student Association identified course availability as the top student concern in the spring of 2006. With the introduction of more general education courses, students find it easier to register for classes. This past fall, Student Association announced that course availability had slipped from the top three student concerns."
At a recent session for College of Arts and Sciences chairs and department heads, Mahan, Greg Stevens, an assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Bruce Szelest, assistant vice president for Institutional Research, Planning, and Effectiveness, discussed the improvements and unveiled some new management tools to help departments develop the science as well as the art of tracking supply and demand for classes.
Many of the new Gen Ed seats came from Associate Dean of General Education Anne Hildreth's examination of existing courses that weren't labeled as Gen Ed before, but which met the requirements, Mahan said. In addition, new classes were added.
The issue of course availability first arose several years ago. In addition, new General Education requirements added more mandates and removed waivers for transfer students who may have taken a similar course at another college.
Said Mahan, "With the addition of transfer students to the Gen Ed program, we have more students needing to meet more requirements and a greater need for more General Education courses." In addition, since 2004, the University has increased undergraduate enrollment by 1,200, with 50 percent of that growth in new freshmen and the other 50 percent in transfer students.
The answer to projecting needed seats and providing enough courses starts with new tools for tracking supply and demand. Mahan reported that the University now uses its Degree Audit and Reporting System (DARS) to capture student progress data in the aggregate as well as for individual students. "Now we can regularly determine how many undergraduates across campus still need to meet the specific General Education requirements," she said.
This report, developed by Meg Fryling of Information Technology Services (ITS), revealed a "pent-up" need for Gen Ed courses among seniors who still hadn't gained access. In addition, it showed that "transfers come in with different unmet Gen Ed needs, for example, in foreign language and history," Mahan said. In fact, one of every two students in a given major entered as a transfer student.
Similar reports are being developed to track aggregate student progress by major, Mahan said.
In addition, Szelest unveiled a set of new enrollment reports that departments should find useful in planning their academic offerings. These include historical course enrollment reports by course and by instructor, current student enrollment in the departments' majors, intended majors and minors, and "rising junior" graduation rates. All of these reports will be updated regularly and are available at http://www.albany.edu/ir/courseplanning.htm.
Another recent improvement for students is Major Academic Pathways, or MAPS, according to Suzanne Phillips, director of the Advisement Services Center. These "four-year plans" spell out for students a suggested sequence of courses for both their intended major or possible majors and General Education. Particularly with freshmen, this helps in predicting the courses they will need.
Phillips also noted the Advisement Services Center strives to help students articulate why they are in college, and assists them in identifying any obstacles to making the transition to University life.
As the University seeks to become ever more selective, Mahan said, "improving the first-to-second year retention rates, and the overall graduation rate supports that goal." And while the University's retention rate of 85 percent is respectable nationally, it needs to reach 90 percent retention in five years. Once there, the University's six-year graduation rate of 62 percent, which is solid, should also improve to 68 to 70 percent.
Other steps taken on behalf of students include: online registration; online search for available classes by Gen Ed categories; and registration by credits earned rather than by lottery through MyUAlbany.
Scheduling guidelines have also been developed in order to provide greater access for students to the courses they need. These involve both timing and space, both of which are at a premium on the UAlbany campus. Mahan noted, for example, that moving one class up by 15 minutes, so that it runs from 8:45 to 11:45 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. to noon, freed up an entire classroom, with the result that another class can start at noon. The guidelines also recommend balancing course offerings across the entire day and the entire week to maximize student access.
The new data and tracking methods can help departments avoid the pitfalls of the past. Mahan noted the Registrar's Office will be offering new training for department administrators to "reserve" seats in courses for designated student populations, or to specify for students that a class requires a prerequisite, for example. This can help avoid the situation of having students sign up for a class and then later have to drop it because they don't have the prerequisites.