Clearing Bottlenecks

Pillar Four: Clearing Bottlenecks



Recent surveys of SJSU students reveal that one of the significant challenges to their success is course bottlenecks – impasses where they cannot enroll in a course they need to make progress toward their degrees, or when they cannot successfully complete a course and move forward toward their degrees.

Barriers to enrollment are typically resource-related: lack of funding for a sufficient number of sections, lack of a qualified instructor, or lack of appropriate facilities (classrooms or class labs). Enrollment caps resulting from limited state support also contribute to the issue. In the easiest of cases, additional resources made available to the colleges would result in additional course sections and begin to clear the pent-up demand for bottleneck courses. A major effort was initiated in fall 2016 to expand course offerings where they are most needed with an infusion of $2.8 million into the colleges to offer up to 500 additional sections. At the same time, enrollment management practices must be reviewed to remove unnecessary limits on access to bottleneck courses, such as enrollment caps, unit limitations and wait-list policies. The campus must examine these practices to effectively capitalize on the $2.8 million investment in bottleneck courses.

Barriers to course completion are much more complex and nuanced, but equally impactful in creating bottlenecks. Bottlenecks are created because students have difficulty passing a course the first time, and must retry a second, and even a third time, thus increasing the demand for spots in the course. SJSU faculty have begun to address these issues in numerous ways including through participation in an initiative sponsored by the CSU Chancellor’s Office, Course Redesign with Technology (formerly known as Proven Course Redesign and Promising Practices). To date, faculty from several departments within the Colleges of Science and Social Sciences have worked with instructional designers from eCampus to design and implement technology-enhanced solutions to course bottlenecks. Efforts must be expanded to promote student success while maintaining high academic standards.

Clearing these bottlenecks will have a lasting effect – more students will be able to graduate on a shorter timeline thus freeing up capacity for larger cohorts of new students.


Addressing these issues requires a two-prong approach that focuses on making courses available to students when they need them, and taking measures to improve student success in courses with a history of high-failure rates while maintaining our academic standards.

  • Ensure students have access to the classes they need to progress towards their degree.
    • Track and assess bottleneck courses every semester. Engage the colleges in determining the hurdles to enrollment in those courses.
    • Implement changes to registration practices to ensure all students can register for a full load.
      Implement changes to wait list and notifications to facilitate accommodating as many students as possible.
    • Evaluate all degree road maps to ensure they are realistically achievable (the prerequisite sequences are correct and courses are offered during right semesters).
  • Improve success rates in high-failure rate courses while maintaining a high-quality curriculum.
    • Provide support for students and faculty in historically high-failure rate courses.
    • Expand the use of peer educators in high-failure rate courses.
    • Expand the use of high-impact practices in high-failure rate classes.
    • Incorporate department plans to address high-failure rate classes into program planning.
    • Utilize the CSU Dashboard to increase awareness of faculty and chairs in performance and success rates in their classes and majors.

Pillar-Specific Metrics*:

  • Reduce the number of students on wait lists for bottleneck courses.
  • Increase the percentage of students earning 30 or more units in an academic year.
  • Increase the number of historically high-failure rate classes using peer educators.
  • Increase the number of historically high-failure rate classes using high-impact practices.
  • Increase the pass rate in historically high-failure rate classes.
  • Decrease the number of students who reference impacted courses as a concern on the Campus Climate Survey.


SJSU has committed $2.8 million to clear bottlenecks as identified by data and input from departments for 2016-17 and 2017-18. The university also has grants, such as the CSU Course Redesign with Technology grant and the First in the World grant that support curriculum redesign to clear course bottlenecks caused by low-pass rates. Resources are needed to increase the academic support for students in high-failure rate courses and to expand the use of high-impact practices in these courses.


Efforts to address course bottlenecks align well with the efforts to support our students’ success through attending to their college readiness, to advising them, and to engaging them more significantly, as outlined in other sections of this proposal. Associate Vice President for Academic Planning and Budgets Marna Genes is leading the Clearing Bottlenecks pillar.