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The University Magazine

Quarter system gives way to semesters

President Destler announced in February that RIT will begin using a semester-based calendar beginning in 2013.

Beginning in fall of 2013, RIT will convert from its traditional quarter system to a semester-based calendar, President Bill Destler announced on Feb. 10.

During this transition, it will be RIT’s top priority to protect all students from any harm during the change from quarters to semesters, Destler pledged. Students will not lose progress toward earning their degree, nor incur any financial burden associated with the change, he stated.

Destler cites the diminishing number of colleges and universities operating under a quarter-based academic calendar as one reason for the change. Two decades ago, 25 percent of higher education institutions in the United States used the quarter system. However, it is estimated that number will decline below 10 percent in 2012. All colleges in the Rochester area are on semester calendars.

“RIT is in an increasingly isolated position that clearly complicates our interactions with other institutions in such areas as credit transfer, student exchange and study-abroad opportunities,” says Destler.

The semester system will be based on a flexible “5x3” model, meaning most students will take five 3-credit courses per semester. Currently, students typically take four 4-credit courses during each of the fall, winter and spring quarters. In the new system, fall semester will get underway in late August, allowing for an extended holiday break from late December through much of January. Spring semester will conclude in late May, as it does under the current calendar.

Following are answers to some of the most frequently raised questions about the decision.

Question: Why is RIT changing its calendar system?
Answer: The RIT community has been discussing a possible calendar change over the last two years. These discussions have involved students, faculty and staff and have included many open forums and different proposed calendar options including alternative quarter calendars.

As a result of these discussions, a number of reasons have surfaced for making the change. Of these, the most important by far are those that have the potential to positively impact the quality of the educational experience that our students receive. These include:

  • Semester calendars are currently in use at almost all other colleges and universities, and the adoption of a semester calendar at RIT will greatly facilitate our interactions with other institutions in such areas as credit transfer, student exchange, and study abroad opportunities for students.
  • There is a potential for improved student retention and graduation rates. Because semesters are five weeks longer than quarters, entering freshmen will have a longer period to adjust to college before final exams. In addition, all students will have greater opportunities to recover from illnesses and other interruptions in their studies. Finally, the elimination of the winter quarter disrupted by the holiday break should help students because the rate of course failures is the highest during this period.
  • The proposed calendar will allow for the offering of an optional January “mini-mester” for students who want to shorten their time to degree, earn some extra money, or work intensively on student projects.
  • A semester calendar 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 and to participate in cross-institutional education and public service programs that are increasingly offered during these break periods.

Question: Won’t a change to the semester system result in a loss in the academic rigor?
Answer: The total instructional/lab hours taken by a typical student per week and per year will remain the same and the content of our degree programs will remain essentially the same. Most of the colleges and universities thought to be especially rigorous in their academic programs are on the semester system.

Question: What about the co-op program?
Answer: RIT remains committed to co-op experiences as a key feature of our students’ education. RIT has already been contacted by co-op employers who are pleased with the change because almost all other co-op schools are now on semester systems. Overall, the co-op experience will not change.

Question: Were alumni and trustees contacted before this decision was made?
Answer: Yes. Alumni were told about the discussions of a possible calendar change in a letter from the president last year and given an electronic update in January. The trustees have also been involved in these discussions and have approved the change.

To learn more about the change, go to www.rit.edu/president. Feedback on RIT’s conversion to semesters may be sent to President Destler at destler@rit.edu.