Task force to explore potential switch from quarter system to semesters

DePaul has appointed the Quarter to Semester Exploratory Task Force to examine academic calendar systems and identify academic implications of the school’s quarter-based system.

Members of the faculty-led task force, which includes staff and some students, will examine the higher education landscape and relevant data and identify specific factors to be considered in a potential transition from quarters to semesters. Additionally, the committee will analyze the impact of this transition on learning outcomes, pedagogy, alignment with other universities across the country and other pertinent factors.

Once all of these steps are completed, the task force will then produce a report that describes collegiate pros and cons of a transition for further consideration. The task force will first meet on Tuesday, Jan. 22 before establishing its meeting schedule for the next two quarters. They are expected to finish by June 7.

This topic arose as a part of DePaul’s strategic six-year plan, “Grounded in Mission: The Plan for DePaul 2024.” The plan recommended that DePaul look into moving away from a quarter-based to a semester-based academic calendar since the majority of universities in America run on semesters.

After the strategic plan was announced, the university president’s office established multiple task forces such as this one to address the relevant aspects of the strategic plan.

The two chairs of the task force are Caryn Chaden, associate provost for Student Success and Accreditation, and Mary Ann Papanek-Miller, an art professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

“If DePaul were to move to semesters, preparations for that move would likely take a number of years. Hence most current students would likely feel no direct impact,” Chaden said. “Moreover, provisions would be made for any students who were in the process of completing their degrees during such a transition.”

One of the biggest draws to DePaul is its longer than average winter break that is six weeks in length. The fall quarter is completed right before Thanksgiving, and students do not return to school until after New Year’s Day. This allows students to have plenty of time to spend with their families and gives them additional time to complete short-term study abroad trips, take December intersession classes or work a short internship. At the moment, the only degree programs that are offered on a semester-based academic calendar come from the College of Law. Every other degree program at DePaul is taught on the quarter system.

Comparably, winter breaks at universities that function on a semester-based calendar typically range from three to four weeks. Semesters typically run about 15 to 16 weeks in total, as most colleges that run on semesters have a fall term from August through December and a spring term ranging from January through May.

Ahji Guyn, a sophomore studying biological sciences, thinks that it is important to continually check the effectiveness and progress of the quarter system due to the stress it puts on students having to complete generally four courses per quarter in just 10 weeks.

“Since the quarters are so short, it is very easy to fall behind, which is not the best environment for all students,” Guyn said. “This creates a high level of stress, as many people know the reality of how easy it is to fall behind in the quarter system.”

Concerning the stress that quarters might create for students, Guyn noted that semesters might be beneficial by giving students even more time. One positive thing about quarters that Guyn likes is the fact that students don’t have to be stuck in a course for too long if they do not particularly like it. On the other hand, one deterring factor about quarters has to do with studying abroad, as DePaul’s quarter schedule can conflict with matching up to the calendars that international universities might have.

Daniel Makagon, professor of communication studies in the College of Communication, volunteered for the task force because he has some previous experience with this type of change. Makagon taught at Michigan Technological University before joining the DePaul faculty in 2005. Two years before arriving at Michigan Tech, the university shifted from quarters to semesters due to the school primarily being an engineering school that was geographically isolated from large cities, which made travel difficult during the holidays and played to students’ disadvantage for co-ops and internships.

“In the thirteen years that I have been teaching at DePaul, I have only had one student tell me she was leaving DePaul because she didn’t like the quarter system,” Makagon said. “The biggest complaint I hear from students is that they feel burnt out by the end of spring quarter, but then that tends to be balanced out with a lot of praise for the long break at the end of autumn quarter.”

Makagon did mention, however, that Michigan Tech’s transition to semesters reduced offerings for non-engineering majors. Among other institutions that use the quarter system are nearby Northwestern University alongside the University of Chicago, Stanford University and Dartmouth College.

“The biggest pro is that students take more classes, so we are able to create a rich curriculum that offers students multiple learning experiences,” Makagon said. “It seems like a more thorough investigation of the pros and cons leading to a conclusive report could put the conversation to bed, so to speak, or lead to a change.”

The two students on the task force are Johnny Milas, an undergraduate, and Kaitlyn Pike, a graduate student and former undergraduate transfer at DePaul.