It’s clear to us that Cal Poly students thrive on quarters, so we were initially skeptical when we learned that a study is again under way to examine the pros and cons of switching to a semester system.
For years, the topic has come up periodically at one campus or another, though this time, the California State University administration is interested in — some might say pushing — a system-wide conversion.
Officials at Cal Poly and the Chancellor’s Office point out that there would be cost savings down the road if all 23 CSU campuses were on the same calendar. That’s fine, but so far, we haven’t even seen a back-of-the-envelope calculation of what it might save.Granted, cost savings isn’t the only potential advantage.
A majority of CSU campuses — 17 of the 23 — already are on the semester calendar, as are community colleges. If all schools were on the same calendar, it would make it easier for students to transfer from one college to another.
Proponents also have a point when they argue that the semester system allows more time for teaching and less time spent registering for classes, buying books, getting familiar with teachers and — almost before you know it — taking final exams.
On the other hand, an equally sound argument can be made that, because students on the quarter system take more courses over their college career, they sample more subjects and come away with a broader education.
We could go on and on with a list of pro and cons.
Yet given California’s fiscal mess, we believe the fundamental question right now — crass as it sounds — is whether the state can afford it. While there would be a long-term financial gain, there would be considerable upfront costs, both in time and dollars.
Consider: If the campuses were to convert, every single course would have to be restructured. New textbooks and other materials would be needed. Graduation requirements would have to be revamped. And every aspect of campus life — admissions, housing, billing, financial aid — that’s now on the quarter system would have to be converted to the semester system on university computers, which would by a major undertaking for information technology services.
Cal Poly officials haven’t released any cost estimates, but a task force at CSU Los Angeles — which has been considering a switch to semesters for several years — produced a report in 2010 that estimated the cost of conversion at nearly $7.5 million. Opponents of conversion at the Los Angeles campus argue that, with California in a budget crisis, that money would be better spent directly on students.
They make a good point. However, we don’t believe the idea should be shelved until the economy recovers. There is value in analyzing whether it makes sense over the long term — from both academic and financial standpoints — to switch to semesters. If the consensus is yes, then the state should proceed slowly and carefully.
With the CSU system reeling from multiple years of budget cuts — with more pain to come if the governor’s tax increase doesn’t pass — this is not the time to be investing millions of dollars on the hope of recouping the money years in the future.Don’t rush in to “fix” a system that isn’t broken.
Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.