Using data to find and eliminate section bottlenecks

It’s no secret that students unable to get into high-demand courses are less likely to graduate on time. Many institutions struggle to identify and manage these “bottleneck” courses, however, because the relevant data is scattered across the institution.

To address this issue, progressive institutions are building dashboard tools to help chairs quickly triage bottlenecks and open new sections during registration.

A Dashboard to Detect Bottleneck Courses

Western Washington University (WWU), a public master's institution, has exploited its existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to create an easily comprehensible dashboard to tackle its bottleneck problem at low cost. In addition to reducing course access problems, they also saved faculty and chairs countless hours in low-value waitlist management tasks.

The core of WWU's initiative is the waitlist function within its Banner ERP system, a feature which sat unused until 2012. The feature includes a dashboard which chairs use to quickly identify bottlenecks and justify supplementary instruction funding from a central pool. The system has become so efficient that administrators can now open a new section in a single day.


WWU Case Profile

The waitlist function automatically invites waitlisted students to register when new seats open, sparing faculty the task of hearing and weighing dozens or hundreds of student pleas for a seat in a full course. The central system also ensures fairness, limiting the advantage of students who might have the political savvy to petition the instructor or strike a deal with a registered student for their spot.

Achieving Results Without New Investments

Using the waitlist tools in their existing ERP system, WWU achieved significant results without making new investments—and saved time for everyone.

WWU Case Profile

Since implementation of the waitlist function, the share of WWU graduating seniors citing course access as an impediment to graduation on their exit survey has fallen by 13 points. Additionally, faculty and chairs now have the chance to focus on more mission-critical activities. To top it all off, administrators achieved this at no cost by making better use of ERP technology that many institutions already possess.

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