February 08, 2013 by Julia Casciato
The Office of the Provost notified the Drexel community Jan. 31 that the University is re-examining the Drexel academic calendar and considering the possibility of switching to a semester system.
In the past few years, a number of universities have made the switch from quarters to semesters, and over 90 percent of the country’s higher-education institutions now run on a semester system.
“What makes us any different if we’re following what everyone else is doing? Maybe we should improve the quarter system to get rid of the flaws instead of changing the system,” Daniel Ziegler, a freshman majoring in computer science, said.
There are several schools that combine co-op with the semester system, such as the University of Cincinnati and Northeastern University. Drexel is looking at schedules of both schools as potential models.
“Drexel is Drexel. Drexel is a unique place, and we’re not going to just march in line with other schools. We’re going to look at what works for us and what works for co-op. Co-op is the cornerstone of a Drexel education, and it’s all about experiential learning,” Janet Fleetwood, vice provost for strategic development, said.
“At Drexel our priority is making sure that the co-op period is comparable in length to what it is now, and we want to make sure that our co-op employers feel that they are getting sufficient time with our students,” Fleetwood said.
The placement of co-op periods would alter to align with longer semesters, but they would still remain six months in length, and Drexel would remain a year-round university.
A task force of various University representatives has been put together from members of the Study Abroad Office, budget and administrative planning, co-op education, academic affairs, student services, enrollment management, and the dean of students, including Provost Mark Greenberg and Fleetwood. Students will also be joining the task force.
“We’re just starting, but this is the time for everyone to be heard,” Fleetwood said.
Additional focus groups will be created for students, alumni, faculty, advisers, trustees and stakeholders. Students will be the first group surveyed for their thoughts and opinions. Greenberg will hold a special meeting with the Undergraduate Student Government Association in the coming weeks.
“It’s not about [the] administrators or faculty, it’s about the students, it’s what is better for our student body and what’s going to get them the best education,” Greenberg said.
If the final decision is to switch to a semester system, the process would take a minimum of three years from the time of the decision to completely implement the system. The system would take effect at the start of a fall term. Already enrolled students are guaranteed not to lose any Drexel credits or have to spend additional terms at Drexel because of the change.
“The task force is considering how to optimize the academic calendar, and everything is on the table. We’re only going to do this once. It’s time-consuming, expensive and potentially disruptive,” Greenberg said.
Changing to semesters would allow professors to teach courses in more depth, provide ample time for students to absorb the material, and permit students to work on assignments for longer periods of time.
If the change is made, Drexel’s curriculum would have to be rewritten to accommodate the longer terms. Greenberg explained that it’s not always a bad thing to have faculty step back and evaluate the materials they are teaching. Textbooks are also written for semesters, so the change could allow faculty to use a book in its entirety instead of picking and choosing topics.
“Being a computer science major, we have to choose different tracks, and the courses align perfectly with the quarter system. The semester system wouldn’t allow you to do that, as some courses are short enough for 10 weeks but may drag with the 15 weeks,” Ziegler said.
Emily Meltzer, a junior psychology major, transferred from Temple University and has therefore experienced both the semester and quarter systems.
“I see the benefit of quarters [and] how it works with the co-op system. In a way it’s nice because if you don’t like something, you only have it for 10 weeks. But the semester system allows you to absorb more, and you’re not likely to run around like a chicken with your head cut off for . . . six weeks like at Drexel,” she said.
Incorporating reading weeks before midterms and finals would give students the opportunity to focus on their studies without having to attend classes and to catch up if they have fallen behind.
“I think a lot of people use [reading weeks] as a week to do nothing; I personally didn’t. At Temple we’d have Friday and then Monday off,” Meltzer said.
Along with rearranging the academic calendar, another goal is for the end date of spring term to align with other universities to permit graduating seniors to enter the job market the same time as other graduates instead of weeks later.
“We want our graduating [class] to have every advantage for getting a job, and getting them into the job market ‘late’ is not an advantage,” Fleetwood said.
Other universities that have switched academic calendars reported a cost of $1.5 million to $3 million each year during the transition. However, these numbers may not be accurate for Drexel, as universities used the transition period to implement new technologies and other advancements into their schools. The funds for the transition would come from Drexel’s operations budget, not from raising tuition.
One goal is to ensure the price of a Drexel education would not increase.
“The absolute bottom line is that [moving to semesters from quarters] can’t make a Drexel education more expensive by itself. If this is going to cost more to the student, we are not going to do that,” Greenberg said.
In 1999 Drexel looked at the possibility of moving to a semester system but ultimately decided that it was not the right decision to make at that time.
“The students overwhelmingly wanted to stay on quarters. Now we can dismiss that and say that’s the only system they know. But there may also be some wisdom in considering that we attract a group of students that like the quick pace, and we may not attract that group if we go to semesters, so we’re going to be careful about that,” Greenberg said. “Even if we do nothing, at least we want to convince ourselves that doing nothing is what’s in the best interest of our students.”
To comment on the issue, emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. All emailed feedback will receive an individual response and be forwarded to the appropriate member of the task force.