The academic “year”

Schooling in many places occurs during the colder winter months due to the need for the children of farmers to work during the summers. K-12 schools provide 180 days of teaching with the summer off as a result.  Colleges and universities follow a roughly similar schedule, but offer classes over semesters, trimesters, or quarters.  There may be summer school or a summer term at many schools as well, but these are generally optional or required to make up work.

This system has been debated in the K-12 setting many times, and in higher education as well.  The case presented for the “pro-full year” include better student retention, better use of facilities, and possibly better learning outcomes.  The cons include the scheduling conflicts that would arise for parents and students, work scheduling to pay the bills would become a great deal harder, and there is no conclusive evidence that it works better than the current system.

My institution uses semesters, generally with a break or two, of 15-16 weeks. We just had Thanksgiving break and soon the semester will be over.   And I’m tired (so much so I very nearly accidentally deleted this post just as I was finishing it…).  I generally need the winter break and summer to catch up on everything that fell by the wayside during the semesters and to simply recover from the year. Taking that time to add a term, or extending the current semesters in some fashion, would make my life considerably harder.

When perusing the options for full year education, one article claimed that there would be no increases in faculty load.  Unless a whole new passel of faculty are hired, who exactly is teaching for the full year?  I doubt my institution would spring for the number of faculty needed to maintain the current loads even with the increased revenues we might get from more time and bodies in classrooms, as we are already understaffed, so any kind of extension of our teaching time would be onerous.

I have only been exposed to the semester system, though colleagues have seen trimesters or even blocks.  No one has advocated for a major change in our system based on their experiences, though this is one of those zombie topics that pops up as something to consider.

So what do you think: semesters? Quarters? Full-year?


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Apostrophobia is a college professor at a women's college in the US. She teaches biology, does pedagogical research on her guinea pigs (aka students), and has an existential fear of misplaced apostrophes.

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