The Pandemic Will Obliterate The Traditional Academic Calendar. And It Can’t Happen Fast Enough.
Everyone has been pontificating about the various temporary and lasting impacts of Covid-19 on education. It has undoubtedly accelerated the adoption of online and hybrid learning, exacerbated equity and access issues and exposed the financial fragility of many education institutions. But there’s one change that few are talking about and it very well may be the biggest and most positive change of all precipitated by Covid: the obliteration of the traditional academic calendar.
Why do bachelor’s degrees take four years to complete? Why is it that we monitor and report 6-year graduation rates for these 4-year degrees? Why do we see considerable learning loss over the summer – especially for students from underserved communities? Why has college gotten so expensive? Many of these questions can be explained and answered to varying degrees through the lens of the academic calendar.
Many universities have made fairly major changes to their academic calendars this year in an effort to work around Covid. Starting the semester earlier or later and ending in-person classes by Thanksgiving was a common strategy employed this past Fall. Much like the transition to online, universities were able to make these changes in rapid fashion – albeit with a lot of work required to do so. In some cases, like Lynn University, officials employed innovative new block schedules offering four separate four-week sessions in the fall. This kind of model allowed students to jump between online and in-person blocks and to finish the semester in an accelerated fashion.
Based on the success of these scheduling innovations they are now being considered as long-term changes, not just a temporary Covid configuration. These pandemic-induced moves have also had the effect of killing the proverbial sacred cow of the traditional academic calendar. And that opens an entirely new world of possibilities. With calendar innovations – in combination with rapidly expanding online and hybrid or hyflex models – we will see an increasing number of incredibly innovative options available for students in the months and years to come. And these options have the potential of being both more efficacious (in terms of students learning) and less expensive.
Sure, there have always been options like taking summer classes. But why shouldn’t we be pushing to create full year-round academic calendars in both K12 and higher education? Do we really need all the extended winter breaks and long summers? As degree-seeking enrollments in U.S. higher education have receded for 10 consecutive years, it’s time to reverse this trend through innovative options that appeal to prospective students who need more affordable and flexible options. They also want and need more work-integrated learning opportunities.
What might some of these options look like? All of the following (and more) become real possibilities:
· Shift the standard of a bachelor’s degree from 4 years to 3 years and include a 6-month co-op experience as part of it. With a full-time, year-round academic calendar for this kind of program, students can complete all academic credits for a bachelor’s degree in 2 ½ years and include a 6-month co-op all in 3 years.
· A hyper-accelerated 2-year bachelor’s degree. It won’t be for everyone, but for dedicated students who are eager to get into their careers or to accelerate into a master’s degree this is indeed an achievable timeline.
· More competitive options for international students to come to U.S. institutions. The U.S. is already more expensive than comparable options in the UK, Canada and Australia. And on top of that, institutions in the UK have a particular advantage with 3-year bachelor’s degree programs. Offering a 3-year bachelor’s degree program where students can study fully online during the Fall and Spring semesters and come to campus for a residential experience during the summer (when residential options are more available – and arguably at a discounted price) allows for a price-differentiated, less-expensive bachelor’s degree. A full-time, on-campus 3-year option for international students would also find a market of interested students.
· Year-round academic calendars also allow for working adults to more readily and easily start and complete programs. The largest and fastest-growing universities in the U.S. today (Southern New Hampshire University, University of Maryland Global Campus, Western Governor’s University, Arizona State University, Purdue University Global, etc.) have already unlocked this as a tried and true formula. Why shouldn’t more residential or traditional liberal arts campuses do the same?
What guiding principles should these options follow? Here are the BIG THREE:
· Lower the cost of a degree
· Provide more flexibility for learners seeking or needing different routes to a degree
· Make more room for work-integrated learning as part of the degree
Not only has the pandemic broken wide-open the need and willingness to innovate with various modalities of learning, but it has also forced education outside the traditional calendar box too. That creates thrilling new possibilities. But – to borrow from Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem – “If only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.”
Published at Tue, 02 Feb 2021 16:48:43 +0000