Change is on the horizon for the academic calendar. The need for reform arose in the wake of the introduction of a new online MBA program in the College of Business and Economics (COBE). This program is designed to provide access to college education for students unable to attend classes on campus.
“There are a lot of people in Idaho and beyond who don’t live close to a college campus and don’t have the ability to pack up and leave,” said Mark Wheeler, Dean of Extended Studies.
The online MBA program is arranged in six compressed seven-and-a-half weeklong sessions over the course of a year. This allows for six different points of entry over the course of a year for new students in the program. While COBE was okay to have an independent calendar for this program, Boise State Provost Martin Schimpf and Wheeler saw an opportunity to address some other issues with the traditional academic calendar by coming up with ways to align it with the online program’s sessions.
“The Provost and I both looked at that and said, ‘That makes a lot of sense,’ and there’s going to be other programs that will want to do the same thing because it’s a national trend,” Wheeler said. “We should try and develop a framework that allows us to move forward in a kind of coordinated fashion rather than having each program do its own thing.”
They drafted a proposal with three possible options and presented it to the Academic Calendar Committee. Subsequently, the proposal document was passed on to the Faculty Senate for further discussion.
The first option consists of cutting one week from winter break and tacking it onto summer break. This would increase summer to 15 weeks, making it possible for two of the online MBA’s compressed sessions to fit within each of the fall, spring and summer calendars. Wheeler stated he believes this would be the least disruptive and simplest option.
The second option is to maintain the status quo while allowing programs to “deviate from this calendar on a case-by-case basis.” The Provost has offered this statement regarding this option: “Option two is the default if we can’t get the two calendars (online and traditional) aligned.”
Option three would make fall, spring and summer semesters all the same length. If they all consist of 16 weeks, it would leave winter break only two weeks long. If they all consist of 15 weeks, Boise State would have to “recalibrate the length of each class time,” Wheeler said.
This is why he considers it “most disruptive,” especially considering the university just did that last fall.
When the Faculty Senate got the proposal, there was no presentation to accompany it, which resulted in some confusion.
Wheeler explained, “Part of the problem is this document wasn’t designed to be read in isolation… so there were a lot of misunderstandings. There was a lot of fear that we were talking about a year-round calendar.” But Wheeler said he could understand how this fear came about. “What (the document) says is, ‘create three semesters of equal length…’ They assumed, and I can see why, that summer would be required but that’s not the case.”
The Faculty Senate also expressed distaste for the idea that the entire university should have to change just to serve online programs, according to Wheeler. “While it would benefit online programs I think there’s a lot of other reasons to consider it,” he said.
One of the main reasons Wheeler offered to consider changing the calendar is that, as Boise State incorporates more online programs that operate on their own schedules, administrative processes would become more difficult to manage.
“When do you know when to disburse financial aid? When do you start and stop processing admission applications?” The Provost agrees this would be a problem and sees changing the calendar as the best solution. “Aligning the calendars simplifies administrative processes, thereby saving resources that can be put into increasing
Kirk Smith, associate dean for Business Graduate Studies. elaborated on the impact this would have on students, particularly those in online programs, by explaining how multiple calendars on different schedules would make it difficult for students to obtain services. If the calendars were aligned, all the student services could be available to students in online programs whenever they decide to start. Which is important, he says, because, “When a person decides to get an online MBA, they want to get started as soon as possible.”
This is why he sees changing the academic calendar as a positive thing for students. It “increases student flexibility dramatically.”
Furthermore, if different departments ask for different schedules, it would complicate things for students who might want to take classes from different departments, according to Wheeler.
Other concerns with the current calendar include the fact that there are a lot of holidays on Mondays. This means Monday-only classes end up with as few as 13 class sessions as opposed to the usual 15 or 16 for similar classes scheduled on other days of the week.
Also, according to Dean Wheeler, “Some feel a month between fall and spring semesters isn’t really necessary.”
He says reducing this break to three weeks would, “allow an extra week in the summer, and that summer could be used for more research, could be used for a longer summer period to offer classes, and students would have that much more time to work… Some people argue that would be a more productive use of campus resources than the four week holiday break.”
The Provost sees a 15-week summer session as a way to “provide more options for students.” These things, Dean Wheeler says, were not properly communicated in the original proposal document.
During a Faculty Senate meeting on February two6, Faculty Senate President Anne Gregory encouraged faculty senate members to gather information from their constituents and share it with the Academic Calendar Committee.
“I think this information is valuable… for the committee to hear and to address,” she said.
Wheeler said he would try to incorporate any feedback from faculty senate members in order to make the proposal clear before moving on with any decision-making. Whatever major changes do occur probably won’t take effect until the 2014-2015 school year, according to Wheeler.
“What we need to do is make sure everybody understands what is being discussed,” he said, “and then see what the issues are. Maybe there are some legitimate issues that we need to seriously think about and adapt to. But at this point it’s just a matter of getting everybody on the same page, and that includes students. We want to get feedback and make sure we fully understand what the consequences are.”
He went on to explain that the Faculty Senate is a great resource for this process because “they could very well present issues that other people have not raised yet.”
Dean Wheeler will redraft the proposal and clarify any misconceptions as dialogue on the issue continues.