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Best Practices to Manage Higher Education Curriculum

September 13, 2021

Registrars have many stakeholders to keep in mind in higher education curriculum management. Not only do accreditors need documentation, but faculty across departments must be able to collaborate, as well. Students also should be able to engage with curricular objectives in ways that are useful and easy to understand.  

At the same time, there is a constant push to speed up the curriculum modification process. 

According to Maureen Snow Andrade, a professor of organizational leadership, “One of the most critical aspects of being responsive to workforce needs, specifically the ability to create new programs, was the curriculum approval process, which was thorough and lengthy prior to the change initiative. Based on the approval steps and the number of bodies which needed to approve new programs, it could take as long as 2 years for a program to be implemented.”

In other words, registrar's offices are dealing with more stakeholder complexity, while also needing to respond more quickly to fast-changing workforce expectations. 

With these objectives in mind, curriculum management systems need to serve two functions: increase transparency and collaboration among stakeholders and decrease time towards curricular changes. 

In working towards these objectives, what are curriculum management best practices in higher education? 

Reduce Manual Efforts

As of 2016, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers reported a mixed bag of technologies used to support undergraduate curriculum management. 20 percent said the curriculum management tool was part of the student information system, while 17 percent had developed homegrown solutions separate from their SIS. 

What is most surprising, however, is that 43 percent did not have a curriculum management system at all. This likely means that some colleges and universities are still implementing manual curricular policies and updates. 

If campuses are still using paper-based forms, there are many problems that can hinder curriculum management. Not only does manual data entry waste considerable manpower, but endless forms and proposals can include even more time-wasting errors that take time to correct. 

Curriculum management software prevents user error by incorporating tools like progressive disclosures and help text that ensure form and proposal accuracy. What’s more, moving proposals, forms, and the catalog online from the start saves countless hours of manual entry.

Moving Beyond Curriculum Mapping 

Curriculum mapping initiatives are important in assessment and accreditation. Equally important, though, is revising these curriculum maps with the input of stakeholders, even when accreditation requirements aren’t looming on the horizon. 

For instance, staff and students can participate in continual curriculum mapping improvement by participating in course design, assessment, or similar data collection measures. This way, your curriculum map is much more likely to stay up to date, which makes it more functional. 

According to a recent study considering the value of curriculum mapping in Information Systems (IS) programs, the authors suggest, “As part of a continuous improvement cycle, the curriculum map, evolving IS model curriculum guidelines, and the outcome assessment data from an IS baccalaureate program are used to revise the existing program. Recommendations are made for use of curriculum mapping in evaluating intended program learning outcomes, program design, course design, course implementation, assessment design, and assessment implementation.”

Maximizing Collaboration Across Departments 

The same 2016 AACRAO survey considered just how many stakeholders were involved in making curricular changes. Of the 662 proposals of a single curricular change, respondents reported that the Chief Academic Officer, governing board, faculty senate, academic dean, faculty members, or the administrative lead in the curriculum officer were at least sometimes involved in some or all of the process. 

As this statistic proves, curricular changes don’t happen in a vacuum. If a course is modified, then that change affects general education requirements, course prerequisites, and course sequences, both in that department and others.

That’s why a curriculum management best practice is breaking down departmentally-siloed channels of communication. Automating this kind of communication – where every department can be notified of changes in one division’s course – is crucial, and nearly impossible to do without a curricular management system. 

For instance, if a course prerequisite in another department is altered, your curriculum management tool should be able to notify relevant stakeholders of this modification so they can adapt accordingly. 

Simplifying User Engagement

As higher education has become more complex, so have the needs of end users. In turn, registrars’ offices have become increasingly stretched thin. At the same time, users need to be able to access their curricular records in ways that make sense to them.

For instance, the Office of the Registrar at UC-Santa Cruz recently undertook a project called The Curriculum Management Project. The project's goal was to make curriculum management more user friendly. Among the objectives were increasing searchability on tablets and mobile devices, improving scheduling functionality in relation to students’ schedules, and simplifying the interface for degree audit reports. 

Building in Transparency 

User error can slow down the process of curriculum management. Automating these processes builds transparency across departments, with limited work from the registrars’ office. 

The Office of the University of the Registrar at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) implemented many of these curriculum management best practices. In addition to saving time by moving from paper forms to Kuali’s Curriculum Management solution, the university also decreased user errors, improved cross-departmental communication, and streamlined curricular alignment. 

Curious about simplifying your higher education curriculum management? Discover how the Kuali Student Suite can automate your curriculum management today.

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