RIT’s Plan to Move from a Quarter-based Calendar to a Semester-based Calendar in 2013

Frequently Asked Questions

The recent decision to move RIT to a semester-based calendar in 2013 has resulted in a variety of feedback from students, alumni, faculty, staff and parents. The following information represents responses to frequently asked questions. Please note that as RIT makes this important transition during the next three years, the university pledges to ensure students will not lose progress toward earning their degree, nor incur any financial burden associated with the change. During this transition, it will be RIT’s top priority to protect all students from any harm during the change from quarters to semesters.

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 to a semester calendar at this time. 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:

  1. 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 our students.
  2. There is a potential for improved student retention and graduation rates because semesters are 5 weeks longer than quarters, and entering Freshmen will have a longer period to adjust to college before final exams than in the current quarter system. In addition, all students will have greater opportunities to recover from illnesses and other interruptions in their studies because of the longer duration of semesters.
    Finally, the elimination of the winter quarter disrupted by the holiday break should help in student retention since the rate of course failures earned by students at RIT is the highest during this period.
  3. A semester calendar will allow for the possibility of a true Rochester area academic common market as all other institutions in the area are on semester calendars. Such academic common markets have been created in other communities with multiple campuses, such as Boston, and have proven to be of real value to those students taking advantage of them.
  4. The proposed calendar will allow for the offering of an optional January mini-mester for students want to shorten their time to degree, want to earn some extra money to help pay for their education, or want to work intensively on student projects. This optional mini-mester will allow students to take one course in an intensive manner over a period of about four weeks.
  5. A semester calendar will better align our calendar to that of most other colleges and universities and 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.
  6. 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 while sustaining this critical element in most of RIT’s educational programs.

Question: Why is RIT moving to the flexible 5x3 semester system instead of the 4x4 semester model recommended by the faculty and staff?

Answer: RIT currently operates under a 4x4 quarter system in which students take an average of 4 courses per quarter each of which meets 4 hours a week. Thus students have approximately 16 hours of instruction per week for 30 weeks during the academic year. We have chosen a flexible 5x3 model allowing for courses to be offered as either 3 hour courses or 4 hour courses over a 4x4 semester model because the total number of courses taken in a typical degree program is greater for the 5x3 model. This model therefore provides more course variety and diversity over the course of a student’s program. In a typical year under this system, students will have approximately 16 hours of instruction per week for 30 weeks, the same as in the current quarter system.

In addition, a substantial majority of colleges and universities operate under the 5x3 semester model, and adoption of this model will make easier a number of interactions with other institutions including student and credit transfers.

Finally, the transition from a quarter system to a 5x3 model semester system is much more easily managed than a transition to a 4x4 semester system, as in the 5x3 model many of our existing courses can be easily mapped to the new calendar. The transition to a 4x4 semester model would require a complete redesign of almost every course in our curriculum, a task that would be very difficult to achieve without compromising our forward movement in other areas.

Question: Won’t a change to the semester system result in a loss in the academic rigor usually associated with an RIT degree?

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 after the change to semesters. This will ensure that the academic rigor for which RIT is known is preserved. In reality, academic rigor is more determined by what the faculty expect of students and by how students respond to those expectations than it is by a particular calendar system. Most of the colleges and universities thought to be especially rigorous in their academic programs are on the semester system.

Question: Will the new calendar provide the same opportunity for course variety and diversity as the current quarter system?

Answer: The total number of courses a typical student will take in a four-year period is reduced in the move to a semester system, but each course will have at least 5 hours more instructional time to cover additional topics. Under the flexible 5x3 semester model, moreover, certain course offerings (e.g. introductory physics and math sequences and early required courses in the major) will be offered on a 4 credit basis in order to assure a timely completion of these core programs. Teaching year-long course sequences in two semesters rather than 3 quarters allows for additional specialized and elective courses that will minimize any loss of course variety or diversity in a typical student’s curriculum. As revised semester curricula for each degree program at RIT are submitted for approval, they will be examined to ensure that the kind of course variety and diversity that RIT students and employers have come to expect is preserved after the transition.

Question: Will it take longer for students to graduate under the semester system?

Answer: No.

Question: Won’t I earn fewer credits under the semester calendar?

Answer: Yes, but semester credits are completely different than quarter credits and each semester credit represents more study. A typical undergraduate program requires 180 quarter credits but only 120 semester credits.

Question: What will happen to students enrolled at the time of the change from quarters to semesters?

Answer: Student input will be solicited at all stages of the planning process for the change to ensure that no student is harmed as a result of the transition. RIT pledges that all students enrolled during the transition from quarters to semesters will get full credit for courses taken before the transition and will graduate without any delay due to the change. This will apply to B.S. students, B.S./M.S. students, and all graduate students. In addition, students will see no increase in tuition or fees associated with the change. During the year prior to the change, all students will be advised as to how their prior work under the quarter system will be matched to future work under the semester system to fulfill all degree requirements.

Question: What about the Co-op program?

Answer: RIT remains committed to Co-op experiences as a key feature of our students’ educational experience. Under the current quarter system, students typically take four years of classes and spend one year as Co-op employees out in industry. Under the new semester system, the same requirements will be in force, with some adjustments in the number of required Co-op experiences to account for the difference in duration of quarters and semesters. RIT has already been contacted by Co-op employers who are pleased with the change to semesters because almost all other Co-op schools are now on semester systems and they have to make special arrangements to accommodate RIT students. Overall, the Co-op experience of RIT students will not change as a result of the transition to semesters.

Question: Under the current quarter system, students are billed for tuition three times a year and only pay a third of an academic year’s tuition in each billing cycle. Won’t the conversion to a semester system result in students having to come up with more money up front in each billing cycle?

Answer: Students will be billed twice a year under the semester system, and each bill will reflect tuition costs for half of an academic year. The initial bill will therefore be higher than under the current quarter system, but the second billing will not occur until January as compared to November in the current system. The Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships will be disbursing half of a student’s financial aid and scholarships at the same time Student Financial Services is billing for half of the year’s cost. Student Financial Services offers a number of payment options, including a monthly payment plan for families who need to make arrangements due to the change in timing of the billing statements.

Question: Were student opinion surveys ignored in the decision to change to a semester calendar?

Answer: No. A report from RIT’s Student Government and the results of an on-line survey of student calendar preferences completed by about 3,600 students were both discussed at length before the decision was made. Faculty and staff surveys indicating support for a change to semesters were also taken into consideration. When students opposed to the change were asked to state their reasons, they mentioned concerns over a loss of rigor in the various degree programs, concerns over whether course diversity and variety could be maintained in a semester system, and concerns over the impact of the change on the Co-op program. As a result, the decision was to go with the flexible 5x3 semester system rather than the 4x4 semester system preferred by the faculty and staff because that model more effectively addressed student concerns.

Question: Were the alumni and Trustees contacted before the decision to move to a semester calendar was made?

Answer: Yes, the alumni were told about the discussions of a possible calendar change to semesters in a letter from the President sent out last year. The Trustees have also been involved in these discussions and have approved the change.