Technology

New York Startup Coursedog Gets Seed Funding to Tackle Class Scheduling

Scheduling isn’t for the faint of heart, as anyone who’s tried to find a time and room for a team meeting well knows. For colleges and universities, the challenge boils down to this: given a finite set of classrooms and faculty availability, how can officials offer courses that students want and need to take, at times that instructors can teach?

That’s a tall order for any organization—and especially for a small company like Coursedog, which claims its scheduling software can help colleges and universities. But the New York -based startup has picked up some big clients since launching in 2018, including Brigham Young University, Columbia Law School and the University of Montana.

That traction has also attracted investors’ interest, to the tune of a $1.25-million seed round from FoundersX Venture, EFund and Jinal Jhaveri (the founder and former CEO of Schoolmint, a K-12 school enrollment company).

The idea for Coursedog was borne out of personal curiosity in 2017, according to CEO Justin Wenig. He and his co-founder, then Columbia University students, were frustrated that all the computer science classes they wanted to take were offered at the same time. It led them to ask the simple question: “How do schools decide what and when to offer?”

The answer they heard: it’s complicated. As the pair called up hundreds of colleges in the Northeast, they learned that registrars often rely on a mix of spreadsheets and forms (sometimes physical ones), which are then manually combined to create each term’s course schedules.

Such a process may seem antiquated by today’s standards. But that was how the Laguna College of Art and Design in California, which currently enrolls about 750 students, used to create schedules. When Laura Patrick joined in 2006, course planning began with sketches on butcher paper, and the information was then manually imported into Excel spreadsheets.

Patrick, the college’s registrar and director of institutional research, recalls having to resolve issues with scheduling a room or instructor that is not available at a given time. (About three-quarters of the instructors teach part-time, adding to the logistical challenge.) Her team implemented Coursedog in February 2019, and has used it for one term.

“For better or worse,” she says, the system helps “remove the tendency for human error” by automatically flagging scheduling conflicts.

On the Coursedog platform, school officials input information about what facilities are available, and set rules for when courses can be scheduled. The system then sends out surveys to instructors to share their preferences for class times, seating layout and tech requirements. Based on the rules, space constraints and faculty responses, the system recommends a course schedule that maximizes the use of time and space.

It may still be impossible to create a schedule that satisfies everyone’s preferences. But at the very least, Wenig says he wants to help college officials reduce the likelihood that courses are oversubscribed, classrooms are overfilled or underused, or faculty have to teach multiple back-to-back classes on the same day

Coursedog is not alone in recognizing this problem. A 2016 report from Ad Astra Information Systems, another college-scheduling company, found that public, four-year colleges “more likely to have courses that were either underutilized (36%) or overloaded (33%) than courses that effectively balanced seat supply with student demand (31%).” According to the authors, “scheduling practices, more so than physical space constraints, limit students’ course access and contribute to bottlenecks on many campuses.”

Not offering the right courses is more than an inconvenience; it can delay when students can finish their studies and graduate. Coursedog also offers a course projection tool that combs information about historical course enrollments and degree requirements to recommend which courses a college should offer in the future, and how many seats and sections are needed.

“If we know there are 100 econ majors who took Econ 101 last year,” Wenig offers as an example, “we want to make sure the school knows it needs to offer [Econ] 102 to keep them on track.”

Sometimes, school officials also decide to reduce course offerings after learning that certain classes have such low enrollments that it’s hard to justify the cost of putting them on. They may also find that there are too many elective courses that are not part of a degree path.

To make these analyses possible, Coursedog must sync with each college’s student information system, and the company currently works with the major providers of those systems, including Ellucian, Jenzabar and Peoplesoft. The technical integration can take anywhere from three to five weeks. For schools using a homegrown or less-commonly used student information system, that process can take longer.

The company charges institutions a one-time implementation fee that averages $100,000, along with a yearly licensing fee that ranges from $15,000 to $100,000, depending on the number of students at the institution. So far, Coursedog claims 55 colleges and universities as clients, some of whom have deployed the tool across the entire campus while others use it for specific departments.

Wenig says the company currently has $5 million booked in contracts, and is profitable. Despite that milestone, he shares, the company of 16 consists mostly of engineers, and the seed funding will be used to grow its sales and business-development staff. (So far, he’s shouldered most of those responsibilities.)

Coursedog has raised $1.5 million to date, and recently graduated from technology startup accelerator, Y Combinator earlier this year. The company’s first angel investor was Justin Wenig’s father, Devin Wenig, who is the CEO of eBay.

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