As both summer and pre-term were drawing to a close, Wharton’s new class allocation system, Course Match, stepped out of test and into production, officially kicking off the 2013-14 academic year.
The system had been live since April, allowing students until late August to allocate course preferences before Course Match’s complex algorithm was put to work. Just how powerful? With more than 1600 students allocating preferences for nearly 300 different sections, there are more possible combinations than the current estimate for the total number of hydrogen atoms in the universe.
“We began working on [Course Match] over two years ago and after all this time it was wonderful seeing the final result of all of our efforts, which included input from students, faculty, and the administration,” says Gérard Cachon, Department Chair for Operations and Information Management. “Despite all of our planning, we still encountered some challenges loading the massive input files. This accounted for the delay that students experienced, but we have corrected the issue for the upcoming semester.”
Wharton’s previous course allocation system, the Auction, which dated back to the 1996-97 academic year, received increasingly negative results in student satisfaction surveys over recent years. Aside from suboptimal feedback, the primary catalyst for the system’s overhaul has been the changes to the school’s curriculum. With Wharton’s redesigned core and flex-core classes, Students today have more choice over a larger portion of their overall course load than when the Auction was originally designed in the mid 90’s.
As a result of the additional variety within the system, small portions of savvy Students were able to gain a competitive advantage over the majority of others by exploiting inefficiencies over the Auction’s multiple rounds.
“You needed to know what you were doing, but it was fairly easy take an arbitrage position. During the early rounds, I would buy a bunch of classes that were requirements for first years and sell them back as the clearing prices rose. From there I had my choice of the popular classes,” said a confidential WG’13 informant.
“Course Match centers around equity. It diffusely distributes these scarce resources rather than concentrating them in the hands of a few students,” says Cachon. After an initial review of the Course Match results, the number of unique 2Y students enrolled in one of the most expensive courses has increased by over 50% as compared to the results of the Auction in Fall’12.
If you were to calculate both the Auction’s and Course Match’s Gini Coefficient, a statistical measure for a country’s income inequality (a higher Gini means more inequality), Wharton’s student population has moved from comparable equity levels in Mexico to those in Canada.
When the Journal contacted the oft outspoken Lucas Llinás Múnera WG’14 regarding the results, he said, “I’ve been to Mexico. Crazy [expletive deleted] happens there.”
Unfortunately the Journal’s time machine is in the shop this week being outfitted with a new set of rims, so we were not able to test the unobservable counterfactual. But we still wanted to get your opinion on Course Match. Take the quick survey at whartonjoural.com and we will publish the results in next week’s edition.
|Mechanism / Country||Gini Coefficient|
|*After-tax (Source: Central Intelligence Agency)|