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Impact on Cost Savings

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona)

Were costs reduced as planned?

The original plan for Cal Poly Pomona included a reduction in the cost-per-student from $135 to $21 by moving all students in the course to a redesign model based on a previously tested pilot. The pilot version reduced the cost-per-student to $75 by serving 120 students in a section (versus 50 in the traditional format) and reduced 33 hours of lecture time to two hours. Faculty reinvested that time in tutorials and in interaction with students during office hours and via e-mail.

While faculty reduced both their preparation time and their lecture time significantly in the pilot, their total instruction time remained constant and their evaluation time increased. Because the tutorials, chatrooms, and e-mail support structures were labor-intensive for faculty, the technology-mediated course, as first redesigned in the pilot, did not result in optimum cost savings. The prime cost-savings objective of the Pew grant-funded redesign was to use technology to increase the number of students served per section (from 120 in the pilot to 450 students), while reducing faculty time.

Consequently, the redesign planned to develop an interactive CD to replace the high number of tutorial hours and to increase the number of TAs per section from 1 to 8. The TAs would take on many of the tasks previously performed by faculty members, especially online interaction with students, and support the increased section size. The plan was to reduce total faculty time devoted to the course from 2520 hours in the pilot redesign to 645 hours in the final redesign while serving more students, an increase from 1800 to 2250. These changes would further reduce the cost-per-student from $75 to $21. Taken together the two redesigns would reduce the cost-per-student from $135 to $21, an overall reduction of 84%.

Because of a major change in the faculty team when the lead faculty member unexpectedly retired, Cal Poly was only able to fully implement their design during winter 2003 quarter. At that point, they did replace all lectures with the online materials and move all testing online with automated grading – two major cost reduction techniques in their plan. During that term, 422 students were enrolled in two large online sections rather than 450 students enrolled in one large online section. The cost-per-student was $87. Thus, rather than reducing the cost-per-student from $75, the new redesign increased costs.

What accounts for this increase? The number of faculty hours in the new redesign increased in comparison with the pilot, moving from 168 hours to 244 hours. In addition, these 244 hours were devoted to serving 211 students rather than 450 students, in effect tripling the total faculty time per student. The total number of TA hours devoted to the course more than quadrupled, increasing from 94 hours per section (or .78 hour per student) in the pilot to 798 hours per section (or 3.6 hours per student) in the redesign. Rather than following through on the plan to reduce labor-intensive aspects of the course, the new team increased the labor-intensiveness of the course. This increase can be attributed to a lack of experience on the part of the new team and a disregard for following the original plan.

On the other hand, when compared to the cost of the traditional model ($135 per student), the redesign shows a cost reduction of 36%. While this is less than the 84% originally projected, it demonstrates that the new techniques have promise, even when inexpertly applied.

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