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The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Drexel to remain on quarter system

The University Advisory Committee on the Academic Calendar decided that Drexel will remain on the quarter system based on recommendations reported July 31.

The committee was formed in September 2012 to explore the possibility of moving from a quarter system to a semester system, which the provost made known to the Drexel community via an email sent in February.

The committee’s final decision to continue the current quarter system was unanimous. The 100-page report and final recommendations were reviewed and sanctioned by President John A. Fry and Provost Mark Greenberg.

“To make sure Drexel serves students as well as possible, we regularly assess the most fundamental aspects of our operations. I’m glad that Provost Greenberg and the University Advisory Committee on the Academic Calendar looked at this issue, and thanks to their work, I’m confident that the quarter system remains an asset for Drexel and the best option for our students,” Fry said.

“I was surprised when we reached that conclusion because, truth be told, my prejudice was to move to semesters,” Greenberg said. “The other surprise was we don’t have any research that indicates that students learn any better or teachers teach any better in 14 weeks than in 10 weeks.”

Faculty from the School of Education assisted in analyzing educational articles that compared quarter and semester systems.

Janet Fleetwood, vice provost for strategic development and initiatives and chair of the reporting committee, explained that there isn’t much available information comparing the two systems, but the resources they looked at showed that there is no difference in students’ educational outcomes between the two systems.

“[Switching] could very well be the wrong direction for Drexel. Partway through this, once all this data was coming in, I started thinking, ‘I hope we don’t do this; this would be a big mistake for our students and a big mistake for our relations with our co-op employers,’” Fleetwood said.

William Rosenberg, a professor of history and politics, conducted focus groups with faculty, students, alumni and co-op employers, and then analyzed the collected data.

“Everyone said, ‘Don’t change!’ And they were really adamant about it and they explained why: they were so proud of the fast pace; that it’s more like the real world, the working world, than a university; and it made the transition to the working world easier,” Greenberg said. “We really listened. If it were up to most of the leaders of this group, we would have done it.”

Fleetwood said that once she realized that switching would not provide any advantages for co-op, she was convinced that Drexel should remain on the quarter system.

Drexel students seemed to agree with the committee’s decision to maintain the school’s somewhat unique academic calendar. A petition started on the site MoveOn.org titled “Movement Against the Semester System at Drexel University” gained 223 signatures before the committee made its decision.

Other schools that utilize a quarter system include Dartmouth College, Stanford University and Northwestern University. In the Philadelphia area, the system is unique. Temple University, Saint Joseph’s University, La Salle University and the University of Pennsylvania all use semester systems. According to a list provided on CollegeExpress.com, only one other school in Pennsylvania operates on a quarter system, the much smaller Central Penn College.

“My previous co-op boss told me that she prefers working with Drexel students over Penn students because we handle stress and deadlines much better, since we are used to the fast pace and heavy workload with our faster quarters versus Penn’s long semesters,” Nicole Ferraro, a pre-junior biomedical engineering major, wrote in an email. “The quarter system forces students to stay focused and learn quickly, both of which will be advantages in the workplace.”

Some factors the committee considered included calendar comparisons between schools on semester, trimester and quarter systems; other co-op schools that switched from quarters to semesters; other co-op schools that chose to remain on quarters; how the transition would affect students; and the overall cost.

The transition from quarters to semesters would have taken three years before the University could start running on semesters, according to Fleetwood.

She explained that all 12,000 undergrads and most graduate students would have need one-on-one meetings with their academic advisers to shape their personalized plans of study and transcripts to fall in line with the semester system. This would have been done to ensure that all students could graduate on time and without having to pay more money, which was a primary concern for Greenberg and Fleetwood.

According to Greenberg, this process would have taken years. They also eliminated the option to hire large numbers of additional advisers to assist with the transitioning process and one-on-one meetings because they felt that the new hires would not be familiar with the student body or curriculum.

The complete transition would have cost the University around $13 million, according to Fleetwood. She added that the University would have had no issue spending the money if the administration felt the transition was necessary.

Greenberg also pointed out that Drexel students are able to take more classes and a wider variety of classes than they could on a semester system.

“[Semesters] are opposite of the dynamic and vibrant pace that we want to emphasize here and the kind of students we attract,” Fleetwood said.

“Anytime I tell anyone that I attend Drexel, they are always really impressed with how much work we do and that we have so much full-time, hands-on experience, and I think the quarter system is what gives Drexel the ability to have that reputation,” Ferraro wrote.

“Drexel really should celebrate the quarter system for all the reasons we’ve talked about: fast pace, change, opportunity to experience [a variety] of courses and teachers. … We think it’s a strategic advantage for Drexel, part of our brand, identity, who we are,” Greenberg said.

In three to five years, the University will revisit the idea of switching to semesters as more data becomes available from other co-op schools that recently made the switch.

The full 100-page report can be found at drexel.edu/provost.