Semesters: A new calendar and new era at RIT

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A. Sue Weisler

President Bill Destler addresses the RIT community at commencement.

After more than three years of hard work across the university, Aug. 26 is upon us. This milestone date for RIT kicks off a new school year with a semester-based academic calendar. RIT is introducing a 5x3 course model. This means a typical course load will consist of five three-credit-hour courses each semester. Semesters will be 15 weeks long, plus a week for final exams.

As I outlined in our 2010 decision, there are many reasons to move away from the quarter system, used by RIT for many decades. The most important are those that have the potential to positively impact the quality of the educational experience for our students. These reasons include:

  • The rapidly diminishing number of colleges and universities operating under a quarter-based calendar placed RIT in an increasingly isolated position that clearly complicated our interactions with other institutions in such areas as credit transfer, student exchange and study abroad opportunities.
  • A slower academic pace in each course (semesters are five weeks longer than quarters) will improve student retention and graduation rates. This will enhance opportunities for students to recover from illnesses and other interruptions in their studies.
  • The new calendar will include an optional January mini-mester (three weeks) for students who fall behind in their programs, want to shorten their time to degree, want to work intensively on student projects, or want to participate in a study abroad experience.
  • A stronger alignment with other colleges and universities will allow the scheduling of winter and spring breaks at times similar to those adopted by other institutions. Our students would then have a better chance to see old friends during the academic year and to participate in cross-institutional education and public service programs that are increasingly offered during these break periods.
  • The recent move of several other universities (e.g., Cincinnati, Northeastern) with strong co-op programs from quarters to semesters provides persuasive evidence that the move can be accomplished without damaging this critical element in most of RIT’s educational programs. Response from our employer partners to the change has been very positive and confirms the university’s course and direction.
  • A semester calendar will not affect RIT’s traditional academic rigor. We will continue to produce students who are prepared to immediately make contributions in the workforce.

The semester conversion was a long and complicated process that involved the collaboration of the entire university. I want to thank students, faculty and staff who oversaw everything from converting individual programs from quarters to semesters, to ensuring that every student received advisement during the transition period. It was an amazing effort.

Let’s welcome this new era at RIT.

Bill Destler