The game on trimesters at Purdue University has changed considerably in recent weeks, with President Mitch Daniels going from calling the idea half-baked to going full-bore a year later.
Faculty and administrators have been asked to vet the concept — moving Purdue from two semesters to three to maximize campus facilities year-round — and determine whether it’s possible to roll it out by fall 2015.
In campus calendar-speak, that’s blazing speed.
Daniels’ pattern on trimesters has been a bit of a zigzag since former President France Córdova proposed the idea in 2012. As governor, Daniels was gung-ho with a plan that looked to fill the campus in the summer and find new ways to accelerate students toward a degree. Then, he got to campus as president and realized that what he had was more of a concept than an actual plan. Heaped onto that was the skepticism of faculty members who had all sorts of questions about teaching assignments, contracts, abandoning traditional academic schedules and whether students would buy into year-round school.
Not surprisingly, Daniels seems to have reconciled those matters for himself and sounds ready to get moving toward a balanced calendar that eventually could morph into true trimesters. That includes working on buy-in from faculty leaders who have been asked to research the administration’s plan before professors weigh in. (The faculty-dominated University Senate has much of the control here because it sets the academic calendar.)
The economics of the trimester, starting with trying to make good use of empty facilities for three months out of the year, plays just as well under Daniels as it did under Córdova.
The obstacles, beyond faculty reluctance, are evident, including the comfort level of possibly putting a larger number of 20-year-olds into the job market. Granted, just because year-round classes are available doesn’t mean students will go year-round and get degrees in three years. That likely won’t be the goal, either. But there’s a reason a four-year college schedule has endured; if not the same as fine wine, students are at least a high-end soup that needs time to simmer before it’s ready to serve.
News last week that Indiana University’s Bloomington campus was ditching its summer session discount, instituted in 2012, because of a lack of interest speaks to how difficult it will be to persuade students used to an August-to-May model their entire lives to give up summers now.
That said, Daniels is right to push ahead on trimesters — to figure out what could work and then work toward making it happen. The potential upside — including that for the local economy — is too much to ignore.
— Journal & Courier, Lafayette, Feb. 7, 2014