How to Standardize College Course Numbers

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In the late 1920s, colleges began using a numbering system for their courses. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, using "101" as an introductory course number started at the University of Buffalo in 1929. Since then, colleges have sharpened their standardization of course numbers, so that each three-digit code for a class contains information about the course level, subject area and sequence among other classes. Standardization of course codes requires the collaboration of several professors and administrators, but overall it is an easy formula.

Course Review

  • Assemble the administrators, professors and other important faculty members. You will need the input of these individuals to properly code each course.

  • Instruct the faculty for each department to go through their course offerings and categorize them by level (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior or advanced). Advanced-level courses include a senior project or thesis class, or any specialized class that is nearly a graduate-level course.

  • Tell the department faculty that after their courses have been assigned a level, they must be put into sequence whenever applicable. For example, freshman may have to take English I followed by English II. This applies wherever prerequisites within the department are necessary for a student to take a class.

Assigning Course Numbers

  • Use the course numbering system to standardize the classes offered by your school. The first element in the three-digit course code is the class level. For most schools, the numbers range from one to five. The first number in the code will be as follows for each class:
    Freshman level: 1
    Sophomore level: 2
    Junior level: 3
    Senior level: 4
    Advanced level: 5

  • Designate the subject area for each class by assigning a number for the second digit in the code. This part of the code can be fairly arbitrary; schools can assign any number for the subject area. For example, Mathematics is 1, Psychology is 2, Business is 3 and so on. For classes that cover more than one subject area, choose one main subject to assign to that class.

  • Decide what sequence number to give each course. This will be the last number in the three-digit code. The first class in a sequence is assigned a zero. Any classes that a student can take to follow that class are assigned a 1, 2 and so on.

  • Finalize the codes and review each one to make sure they are correct. Each code should have three numbers that relate to the level, subject area and sequence number. For example, a sophomore level Mathematics class named Trigonometry II would likely have the course code "211" according to this formula.

Tips & Warnings

  • One way to simplify the second part of the code is to alphabetize by subject area. For example, Art History is 1, Astronomy is 2, Business is 3 and so on.
  • It's helpful to provide students, especially incoming freshmen, with an explanation of the standardization of your course numbering to help them look for appropriate classes.
  • Every class should have its own unique code - don't assign the number "101" to all introductory classes.

References

  • Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
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