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Higher Education Catalog Management Best Practices

October 18, 2021

Some higher education institutions still use policies and procedures that may make their catalog management more inefficient than it needs to be. For instance, some print paper catalogs can’t reflect real-time changes or errors. Other institutions that use catalog management systems don’t integrate with a single curriculum platform or with legacy technology systems that collect scheduling data.

Still, other colleges and universities struggle to convey curricular pathways to students in their catalogs, while others use paper forms that breed errors and inefficiencies to make curricular changes. In turn, then, these paper-driven curricular modifications are often reflected inaccurately in the catalog.

According to Chris Coppola, the general manager for enterprise systems of Kuali, “Institutions are seeing success with a curriculum-first approach to catalogs. While many campuses host their catalogs online, most still use paper to get approvals for new curricula and manually enter information. It’s error-prone, redundant, and puts on-time graduation at risk. With the right curriculum tool, institutions maintain data integrity.”

These policies and practices become so commonplace for registrars that they may not even recognize the alternatives. Here, we will discuss key best practices in higher education catalog management that optimize scheduling, improve transparency, and streamline the connection between curriculum and catalog.

Best practice 1: Move paper to virtual catalogs for easier curricular pathways

Paper-based catalogs have many issues, the biggest of which is that students can’t see how each course they have taken or will take connects to their program sequence. An online catalog, on the other hand, lets them identify course sequences, or even see how a course could fit into multiple degree programs. Further, this kind of mapping speeds time to degree so students don’t take redundant or unnecessary coursework.

Best practice 2: Update catalogs in real time by connecting to enterprise systems.

The University of Colorado-Boulder connects its catalog to its scheduling and curriculum management systems so there is never a lag between real-time changes and the course catalog. This integration also ensures that students know if their courses have been canceled or altered from how they were originally advertised.

Bill Moseley, dean of academic technology at Bakersfield College, also sees robust opportunities for more catalog and campus system integration in the future. “I can envision a future in which a catalog might deliver a more personalized experience to users, based on major, demographic and other factors, to make the use of the catalog more relevant and less overwhelming to the students,” he says.

Best practice 3: Integrate relevant information when students are considering enrolling in a course.

Ideally, students should be able to access more information when they pull up a course in the catalog other than the instructor, date, and meeting times. For instance, a catalog could let students immediately view the course description, faculty profiles and research interests, and learning outcomes.

Best practice 4: Plan course schedules well ahead of time.

Hanover Research suggests that course catalog development practices are out of date. “Relying on traditional metrics to develop course catalogs—such as consistency across terms or time block popularity—ignores many of the central changes in higher education in recent years,” they say.  

Still, 40 percent of institutions plan a course schedule only one term ahead of time. Rather than continuing to offer the same or similar schedules every term, institutions should pay attention to student demographic and course preferences. This, in turn, helps them schedule more appropriately based on classes that are over- and under-enrolled.

What data should an institution collect? Hanover Research recommends the following:

  • Seat-fill rates
  • Space utilization
  • Enrollment caps

Collecting and deploying this information can help registrars schedule to better meet student needs. Determining which classes fill the most quickly – and which don’t fill at all – promotes more logical scheduling.

Best practice 5: Replace paper forms with an automated online system.

Some institutions are still using paper forms, which is an error-filled process that slows down curricular modification. Instead, adopting a collaborative online platform for curriculum and approval processes – and linking this database to the virtual catalog – promotes more up-to-date information.

What’s more, we believe that catalog management software should offer an in-depth look into how this process is functioning between departments to eliminate roadblocks and boost accountability.

Best practice 6: Understand user needs.

Students may access catalogs from many different devices, including their smartphones, so ensuring that the catalog can operate in a mobile-friendly format is imperative. What’s more, catalogs should be accessible to students using assistive technology.

Students should also be able to personalize their course catalog experience. For instance, many institutions deploy program mapping tools that suggest courses for students based on their schedules and preferences. Some colleges and universities are even experimenting with integrating chatbots and AI in their catalog management systems.

Deploying Best Practices in Your Course Catalog

The modern course catalog should be flexible, well-integrated, and user-friendly. What’s more, registrars should be able to easily collect data that provides them more information about student-supportive scheduling.

Kuali Academic Catalog, in connection with the paperless Kuali Curriculum management system, provides all of these features so you’re not devising a catalog management program from scratch. Specifically, the virtual Academic Catalog communicates with whatever legacy technology you have on campus. It also collects data useful for more effective scheduling that will, in turn, improve retention and speed graduation rates.

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