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Rapid Insight: Higher Education case study

Rowan University uses Rapid Insight to Transform Freshman Registration and Section Planning

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  • 125 hours of Testing Services staff time saved

  • 90 hours of Advisor staff time saved

  • 2,700 student records processed in a matter of minutes rather than weeks

In this case study, learn how Rowan University automated a manual process used to assign appropriate courses for incoming freshman students. The project reduced required staff time, improved the accuracy of the registration process, and freed up advisors from tedious tasks, enabling them to return to the critical work of advising students.

The Challenge: A Beneficial but Time-Consuming Process

Rowan University is a public university in Glassboro, New Jersey. Founded in 1923, Rowan now offers more than 70 bachelor’s programs, over 50 master’s degree programs, 4 doctoral programs, and 2 professional programs. Rowan University prides itself on its core principles of inclusivity; agility; and a diverse, scholarly, and creative educational experience. Its student population is growing, and enrollment recently exceeded 19,000 total students across all campuses.

To ensure that students will be on-track to graduate on time with all required courses and credits, Rowan uses a system to place incoming freshmen into the appropriate section of their required courses for their major, which includes evaluation of placement testing scores. The process, which utilizes Freshman Instructional Guides (FIGS) to create freshman Fall schedules based on major-specific curriculum requirements, greatly benefits incoming students by setting them down the right path and preventing them from running into graduation bottlenecks. However, manually evaluating and registering students became more and more time-consuming as Rowan’s student population grew.

The traditional FIGS process involved the following steps:

  1. Testing Services produced several student record spreadsheets, then manually reviewed and evaluated SAT or ACT test results and AP or transfer credits to determine if a student was exempt from a placement test or required to take it
  2. University advisors then manually assigned students to appropriate classes and sections based on placement test results, exemptions, and degree requirements
  3. Curriculum Planners used the results of the steps above to determine how many of each section would be required to accommodate the incoming class
  4. The Office of the Registrar manually registered 2,700 students, one-by-one, in the Banner Student Information System

The process was lengthy and bore the risk of human error. A slight distraction could lead to a student being improperly assigned (or exempted from) a placement exam, or mistakenly sorted into a course too basic or too advanced.

Since 2015, the student population at Rowan approximately doubled, increasing from around 10,000 students to over 19,000. This meant that either additional staff time needed to be allocated to manually sorting and registering students, or Rowan needed a more efficient system.

The Solution: Automate the FIGS Process

Rowan’s Information Resources & Technology Data Analytics team worked in collaboration with the University Advising, Testing Services, and Development & Innovation teams to take on the challenge of creating an automated system to rapidly and accurately perform the entire FIGS process. 

To complete this work, the Data Analytics team at Rowan required data tools that would enable them to efficiently do the following:

  • Connect to a variety of databases, information sources, and disparate file types
  • Incorporate scoring rules to perform sorting calculations
  • Output the information in an actionable format

Rowan University chose Rapid Insight’s Construct to accomplish this task, citing its flexibility and strong customer service as deciding factors. “If I am stuck on something, the customer support team always helps me to achieve it. Construct is so flexible that I was able to seamlessly integrate with multiple systems, ” said Bharathwaj Vijayakumar, Rowan’s Associate Director of Data Analytics. Construct connected to all of Rowan’s information sources and applications, then applied rules and calculations to produce desired results.

“If I am stuck on something, the customer support team always helps me to achieve it. Construct is so flexible that I was able to seamlessly integrate with multiple systems.” 

 – Bharathwaj Vijayakumar, Associate Director of Data Analytics 

Vijayakumar cites the ease of using the Enterprise edition of Rapid Insight’s Construct in making development collaboration seamless. “Construct Enterprise has enabled us to share the jobs between team members and helps us to work on things collaboratively.” Additionally, he says that the visual, intuitive nature of Construct “helps simplify the implementation of a process using a visual workflow which is very easy to understand.”

A screenshot of the Construct process. All green nodes are inputs. All blue and purple nodes are data preparation steps, such as de-duplicate, merge, and cleanse. Red nodes are the final output. Once the process is created, it is saved in Construct and can easily be updated with new input data.

The FIGS Dashboard

The solution developed by Rowan’s Data Analytics team is known at the FIGS Dashboard. The entire process of assigning students to placement exams and course sections now happens automatically, and the Registrar Office receives a clean, organized dashboard to work from.

FIGS-Dashboard

With the process saved in Construct, and data automatically refreshed from Banner, no additional work needs to take place to implement the dashboard using a new year’s data. If Testing Services has new scoring rules to implement, or if the specific major requirements change from year to year, the system can quickly and easily be updated to reflect the changes. The dashboard does the rest, automatically providing advisors with the exact list of courses to register each freshman for in Banner.

Lara Roberts LeBeau, the Assistant Director of Testing Services at Rowan University, described the improvements the FIGS Dashboard made for her department by saying, “the Dashboard revolutionized the process of administering placement testing for incoming students.  It reduced the number of hours required to determine which students require testing and the number of hours required to prepare for placement testing appointments. The Dashboard is accurate and simple, and is truly a pleasure to use.”

“The Dashboard revolutionized the process of administering placement testing for incoming students.”

– Lara Roberts LeBeau, Assistant Director of Testing Services

Implementing the FIGS dashboard reduced the required staff time for Testing Services by 125 hours and saved student advisors an additional 90 hours. In total, the dashboard saves 215 hours each year — over 5 weeks of FTE staff time. This freed up Testing Services and student advisors to focus on critical work that was previously overshadowed by the lengthy manual task of sorting and ranking incoming students.

“The automation of the course mapping of degree requirements to freshman schedules reduces the amount of time advisors need to manually enter course information,” said Amy Ruymann, Rowan’s Director of University Advising Services. “The increased efficiency and accuracy of the overall system has been significant in that advisors can now spend more time on the important work of supporting students.”

“Advisors can now spend more time on the important work of supporting students.”

– Amy Ruymann, Director, University Advising Services

Additionally, the FIGS Dashboard removed the potential for human error; when records were checked manually, the chance existed that a student could be incorrectly flagged as needing to take a test when in fact they already met the requirements for bypassing it. The FIGS Dashboard saves advisors and students additional time, as these errors no longer need to be corrected.

The FIGS dashboard also benefits curriculum planners. It delivers a more timely and accurate list of the sections required for the coming term. This allows planners to ensure there are enough sections of each course available earlier in the planning process, preventing over or understaffing for those sections. 

The Next Steps

The FIGS Dashboard helped to redefine the process of ensuring first-year students’ success, and the next stage in the process will take it one step further. The Development & Innovation team at Rowan will take the course data compiled through the Construct process and connect it directly back into Banner to automatically register students. This will remove an additional step from the Registrar’s process. The Registrar will simply be able to view a student’s pre-generated schedule in Banner and make any adjustments necessary, rather than individually registering each student. Rowan’s Registrar Office estimates that this will save an additional 300 hours each year. 

When the next step of this project is complete, it will be fascinating to see what improvements can be made to develop the process even further.