University of Minnesota explores option of year-round classesSara Schuefften takes condensed summer courses at the University of Minnesota Duluth to get ahead in her schooling, but knows it might not be for everyone.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
Sara Schuefften takes condensed summer courses at the University of Minnesota Duluth to get ahead in her schooling, but knows it might not be for everyone.
As talk circulates on changing the University of Minnesota academic calendar to one with equal weight to three semester-length terms, she offered her input.
“It should be a choice,” Schuefften said this week as she ate in Kirby Plaza with two of her sisters and a friend, who all attend UMD.
University officials say that offering a regular semester over the summer could be a way to allow students to get a degree in less than three years and fully use campus facilities. It’s being called year-round school that would offer classes more in line with those in the fall and spring terms.
As might be expected, turning the academic year on its head comes with a lot of questions and issues.
If a student wants the traditional four-year route, that should be an option, Schuefften said. “There should be two tracks.”
Her sister, Jessica, wondered how financial aid would work because most students are eligible for only two terms per year.
Jennifer Schuefften said there could be some savings in rent with longer leases.
Sarah Stellzer said zooming through the school year without the traditional summer break might help her retain what she learns. “I don’t keep up with what I’m learning now,” she said.
People started having these conversations after UMD sent out a survey in February asking faculty, staff and students their opinion on changing the academic year. It asked about starting the fall term earlier, a two-day fall break, a more-condensed finals testing schedule, starting spring term earlier and, finally, a trimester system with a full-length summer term added.
Of the 3,000 people who responded, a majority agreed that the trimester idea was worth exploring, though many didn’t know exactly what it would entail.
Student Eleanor Bolich said at first didn’t know what the point would be. When it became clearer that more classes would be available each year, she warmed to the idea.
“It’s hard to finish in four years right now,” she said of the availability of classes. She is a latecomer in declaring her major and would like it if she could now dive in and finish as quickly as possible.
“I’ll finish in five years now,” she said.
Last week, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler mentioned in his State of the University address at the main campus in Minneapolis that he would like to explore the idea of a year-round academic schedule with three 14- to 15-week terms, or trimesters.
The idea of a third full term has been kicked around by UMD administration for a while, said Andrea Schokker, the executive vice chancellor for academic affairs.
“It’s about doing more with less,” Schokker said. She echoed Kaler’s words when citing some of the advantages to a year-round schedule, including better use of university facilities and the opportunity for students to finish degrees earlier to join the work force and pay off tuition bills.
Students would be able to earn degrees in less than three years. That could make university campuses popular, adding to tuition revenues and eventually more faculty, Kaler said.
After the Kaler remarks, which included the statement that the Minneapolis campus would be the first place to test a new schedule, UMD will probably wait and see how the experiment goes, Schokker said.
It could be several years before any such plan would take shape and, if announced, at least three more years before it could be implemented, Schokker said.
“It’s not going to be immediate,” she said. “We’ll talk with President Kaler.”
Faculty could be offered flexibility in choosing which terms to teach, Schokker said, and they and students could have more time for specialized study or work on research with a longer break during the winter.
“A longer winter session would give students more opportunity to study abroad, have meaningful internship or service and learning opportunities, or complete honors or other significant senior projects,” Kaler said in his speech March 1.
Duluth City Council member Linda Krug is a former dean in the College of Liberal Arts at UMD and teaches a master’s program. She said a year-round schedule would be a definite advantage for students, especially those who do outside activities as part of their learning. Some of her students spend time at the Legislature, and the missed classroom time could be made up with a year-round option.
“It would provide flexibility,” she said.
As for faculty, “It’d be a little more to manage,” she said, and there would need to be plenty of discussion on what the expectations for class loads would be.
Overall, the idea is worth exploring, Krug said. “You could do some creative things.”
Krug served as dean from 1998 to 2009 and recalls discussions about a beefier summer term but mostly in the framework of making sure students graduated in four years.
A report on adding a summer semester released a year ago on the Minneapolis campus said buildings would probably have to be upgraded with air conditioning to deal with the warmer season. It’s the same case for UMD, David Schimpf from the Department of Biology said. “Indoors, part of the campus gets too hot for educational use during the summer,” he said.
Summer pros and cons
Two-thirds of 75 biology students surveyed on the Minneapolis campus said they would use the summer semester, the committee reported. Their biggest concern was the schedule matching up with other universities across the country when it came to transferring in and the loss of the traditional summer break for full-time jobs.
University campuses, including Duluth, already have up to 13 weeks of divided summer instruction, but the report says students rarely use a full summer as courses are condensed or offer only minimal credits.
Schimpf says the faculty reaction has been mixed. He served as president of the faculty union from 2010 until last month.
He and others who use the outdoors for teaching see definite advantages, but often faculty forgo teaching and do their own research in summer.
Schimpf said it would make sense to go year-round if it draws more students, but the focus should remain on finishing in four years.
“Planting the idea that students should think about finishing in three years is ill-advised,” he said. “The people I know who sped through in less than four years look back on it as a mistake. A change to three semesters could increase the number of students who finish in four years, especially those who change fields along the way or have a high-credits major like engineering.”
Other colleges across the country are toying with the idea of a full summer schedule to alleviate stresses on facilities in the fall.
“A year-round schedule increases use of our laboratory and classroom space,” Kaler said. “Using our facilities year round reduces bottlenecks and can reduce our long-term need, and cost, for new facilities.”
For the Schuefften sisters and Stellzer, only one thing is clear right now.
“They need to present more information,” Stellzer said.