Skip navigation

Office of the Provost

Class Scheduling Guidelines


September 2018


I. General Guiding Principles for Annual Course Scheduling

The delivery of the curriculum is central to the mission of the University, and scheduling is a complex process involving analysis of student needs, institutional resources, policy and accreditation parameters, and pedagogical strategies. This document is intended to provide guidelines to deans and directors in the development of optimal schedules for courses at the institution.

Key principles to keep in mind:

  1. Course schedules should be written with the progression of students to degree as the top priority.

  2. The full range of meeting patterns throughout the week should be used by schools, from morning to evening, in order to serve our diverse student population and decrease the likelihood of scheduling conflicts among required courses both within and among units.

  3. The sessions available in the academic calendar—Session I, Regular Session, Session II, Intersession, and summer terms—should be used strategically to deliver courses that are pedagogically appropriate to each session and that facilitate student progression to degree.

  4. Students must have access to course availability such that they can readily chart a path to degree as they work with an advisor. Course rotation information is to include campus location and delivery mode.

  5. Institutional data and best practices must be used to ensure that the appropriate number of seats are available in courses, and deans should work with directors to optimize schedules across the colleges to minimize scheduling conflicts, particularly with regard to GEC classes.

  6. Available resources (e.g., number of faculty, ability to hire adjuncts) should be considered when constructing the schedule to ensure that essential courses can be offered and staffed on all campuses.

  7. The Provost sets expectations regarding enrollment minimums, course caps, and faculty workload.

  8. A rotation should be developed for elective courses so they do not compete with one another or place an undue burden on University resources. Developing the proper rotation of elective courses will help ensure the necessary number of upper-level single-section courses are offered.

Deans will communicate with the Office of the Provost regarding matters of curriculum delivery and are responsible for guiding directors’ work, and directors should be in regular contact with their deans’ offices as planning for scheduling is done throughout the year.



II. Enrollment Minimums for Courses

Course enrollment minimums are assessed on a regular basis after careful evaluation of enrollment trends, available human resources, and budgetary constraints. As a general rule, courses should be offered only when it is anticipated that course minimum enrollments can be readily met or exceeded - generally, 15 students for undergraduate classes and 8 to 10 students for lecture/seminar format graduate classes (exceptions must be approved by the dean of the degree granting colleges). However, required courses for degree programs must be offered on a regular and predictable basis such that students can remain on track to graduate within four academic years (12 semesters, including summers). Programs cannot offer required courses solely in intersession or summer sessions without prior notification in the Bulletin. School directors are required to perform an annual analysis of upcoming course offerings to ensure that students in their unit degree plans have a clear path to degree completion within four academic years. The analysis is to include an evaluation of required elective courses where students have a choice of which course to take to satisfy a particular degree requirement.

It is expected that lower-level courses (100-200 level) substantially exceed course enrollment minimums. Upper- level (300-400) courses should meet the minimum enrollment numbers. Courses that are generally considered to be independent study or variable title type courses are not subject to the minimum course enrollment numbers (e.g. 492, internships, etc.). However, programs must not utilize independent study or variable title type courses as substitutions for required courses in a degree program to circumvent minimum enrollment numbers. Graduate courses (500-800) are expected to meet program demand such that the graduate program can achieve the annual minimum number of graduates expected in a healthy program.



III. Course Capacity Limits

Setting enrollment capacity limits, otherwise known as course “caps,” for face-to-face classes requires consideration of three main factors: 1) student demand; 2) discipline and pedagogical best practices; and 3) available facilities. These factors should guide the setting of caps, rather than any other considerations (e.g., faculty compensation or historical precedent).

  1. 1.  Student Demand: Lower-level and General Education Curriculum (GEC) courses are expected to have the largest course caps as student demand for this set of courses is high and insufficient capacity creates progression bottlenecks for students. GEC courses should be offered in multi-section format across a range of days and times to assist students in course scheduling for progression to degree. School directors and deans must use institutional data on historical course demand and student enrollment trends to plan for adequate seats and sections to meet student need. Similar analytics should be used to predict demand for upper-division courses that are primarily major specific and to set appropriate course caps to ensure student access.

  2. 2.  Pedagogy: Caps must also take into account the appropriate size for pedagogical practices suited to the discipline. A lab class, for instance, requires teaching techniques and tools that limit the size in a way that is not the case for an introductory lecture course. School directors should thus draw on disciplinary standards for class sizes and pedagogy in setting caps.

  3. 3.  Facilities: The final component of course cap determination is available facilities. Room selection should be determined by the cap chosen for the class, not the other way around. Through utilization of the breadth of the meeting times available for classes, school directors should maximize the use of rooms across the institution to ensure that the largest demand classes are in the biggest teaching facilities.

Course caps must be set for all face-to-face classes each term in such a manner that is defensible based on the three main factors listed above.

For example, a GEC 02 lecture course scheduled to be delivered in a room with a capacity of 190 seats would have difficulty justifying a course cap of 165 seats. Historically these courses are offered in large enrollment format and the addition of 25 more seats would fully utilize the space and likely not alter the pedagogical practice. These courses are also used by multiple majors, are frequently listed as prerequisites to higher level science courses, and can create a degree progression bottleneck for the student.



Important Policy Consideration for Online Course Caps

Online course caps should also consider the primary factors of student demand and pedagogy. In the case of online courses, a central pedagogical focus should be on the maintenance of “regular and substantive interaction1” between the instructor of record and the enrolled students, per Department of Education guidelines. It is critical that directors ensure that courses delivered in an online format meet this standard. Audits and public interpretations of the standard now clearly show several elements that are required in online learning environments:

  1. Interaction must be faculty-initiated, not just in response to students’ questions or requests;

  2. Interaction must happen frequently and on a fairly set schedule (i.e., students cannot work through material on their own and not hear from instructors);

  3. Interaction has to be meaningful and academic (e.g., discussion board about class material that includes the instructor’s active participation); and

  4. Interaction must be with a credentialed instructor.

The Department of Education employs this standard to distinguish online courses from competency-based coursework and correspondence courses. If courses are not distinguishable as online education, there are serious financial aid implications. SACSCOC also distinguishes between distance and correspondence education and outlines areas of accountability for each2.

In setting caps for online courses, directors must therefore balance student demand for a class with ensuring that the class is not too large for the regular and substantive interaction standard to be met in the particular instructional environment. It is possible to teach large online courses and meet this standard, so it should not be concluded that all online courses must be small or that all small classes automatically meet the standard. Rather, all directors should carefully review online course delivery to ensure that regular and substantive interaction is part of the pedagogy. It is the responsibility of the directors, with oversight from the deans, to ensure that the Department of Education standard is being met in all online courses offered through their programs.



1 For more information, please review this oft-cited WCET article. Additional resources include the 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Education and helpful resources at Ohio State University and Luther Rice College and Seminary.


Contact Us

Office of the Provost
Lucas Administration Building

Hattiesburg Campus

Campus Map