Cal Poly leaders are considering switching from a quarter system to a semester format.
The California State University Chancellor’s Office believes the move would save money and increase productivity in the long run. But some faculty and students say it could limit educational options and hinder students’ preparation for the workplace.
Discussions are in the preliminary stages about a possible change from a 10-week course schedule over three quarters a year to a 16-week schedule over two semesters.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong is co-chairing a committee that includes other CSU leaders.Seventeen of the 23 CSU campuses use the semester system. Six, including Cal Poly, divide the year into quarters. The other CSU campuses using quarters are Bakersfield, East Bay, Los Angeles, Pomona and San Bernardino.
“While discussion of conversion has been going on in the CSU for a year, there is greater interest in this issue from the (CSU) Board of Trustees and the Chancellor’s Office in recent months,” Kathleen Enz Finken, Cal Poly’s provost, said in an email.
Finken added that “there is pressure to seriously consider conversion even if conversation has not been mandated at this time.” The Chancellor’s Office is compiling information about how much a conversion could save at Cal Poly and the other campuses. No figures concerning the possible costs of such a switch have been made public.
CSU also has not disclosed any potential timeline, and discussions are continuing.
Cal Poly faculty union President Glen Thorncroft, a mechanical engineering professor, said he is opposed to the idea, noting his opinions don’t represent any official union stance.
“In the midst of everything that has been happening recently — furloughs, strike votes, a budget crisis — are we really going to take this on?” Thorncroft said. “I don’t see a compelling reason to change to a system that’s inferior.”
George Leone, a staff technician in the Mechanical Engineering Department, said he oversees the project facility where students tinker with turbochargers, oil field compressing systems and turbines.
Like Thorncroft, Leone said the quarter system gives students more opportunity to take a variety of classes, explore interests, and to get the most out of Cal Poly’s “learn by doing” approach.
“A semester system would give students (fewer) opportunities to find their passion,” Leone said.
Finken said a semester can save time and money when it comes to scheduling courses, registering and advising students, processing financial aid and hiring instructors — which can be done twice each year, instead of three times.
“It could cost a substantial amount to actually carry out the conversion to semesters, but the conversion would likely lead to savings over time in terms of productivity,” Finken said.
In a time of massive budget cuts, some operations — including classes, administrators and resources — could be shared if all campuses were to operate on a semester system, CSU spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp said. Five of six students interviewed by The Tribune this week preferred the quarter system.
“The ability to pick and choose from a wide range of general education classes and major electives can really help students narrow down the desires for their careers,” said Kristy Liu, a junior studying biology.
Liu questioned whether a transition to a semester format would cause delays for students seeking to complete their degrees and whether requirements would change.
But freshman math major Andrew Quartuccio said he would prefer a semester system. He said the two-semester structure would give students — especially first-year students — a better chance to adjust to a demanding academic schedule.
“I think semesters would allow students to get better acclimated to the college lifestyle,” Quartuccio said. “Classes, tests, adjusting to life here, registering, it all goes very fast. I think semesters would work well.”