In defense of the quarter system | The Triangle

In defense of the quarter system

Photo by Dylan Elwell | The Triangle

At some point this or last week, you might have received an email about participating in a focus group conducted by an independent researcher in early February. The purpose of these focus groups is to find out how students feel about a potential switch to a semester system and “university-wide common core.” You might be feeling like the choice is obvious — waist-deep into week four with midterms begin rolling in that, depending on your major, may not stop until finals — of course  you would prefer a semester system. Your friends at semester schools enjoy a syllabus week, your friends at semester schools don’t take finals before their spring break, your friends at semester schools are not in classes late into June or over the summer. 

But you have things your friends at semester schools don’t have. Whether you realize it or not, if you are passing your classes, you have developed incredible time management skills doing in ten weeks what most students do in fifteen to twenty. Drexel’s co-op program, made possible by the quarter system, adds value to your resume, both in the experience itself and the reputation of the program for employers. Most of the working world beyond college operates on a quarterly basis. You can take a lot more classes than semester students can.

Regardless of the current student opinion on the system, it seems the motivation behind the switch is increasing enrollment.  I am sure there is data that suggests many students turn their offers down because they’re not interested in going to school over the summer (though most college students are in classes or working over the summer break regardless). 

But even so, if you were to ask yourself or your peers why you chose this school in particular, what would your answer be? For the times I have asked and been asked this question, the answer is not the windy Philadelphia winters– it’s almost always about co-op.

This decision should absolutely not be made without a solid plan for preserving the integrity of the co-op program, which sees success because of the nature of the quarter system. Regardless of your personal feelings about it, it is Drexel’s biggest selling point. No other university does this exactly like we do — a streamlined process that has associated itself with the reputation of our school for employers, a program that allows students to accomplish more work experience than a traditional college summer internship and one that exposes students to the interview process as early as their second year. While students at traditional universities hunt down internships across multiple sources with varying luck, Drexel students search through a database that, depending on one’s major, could have more options than they know what to do with. Like it or not, with some improvements, it gives our school a competitive edge no other school in the area has.

If the intention of moving to a semester system is to retain more applicants, I would argue that changing the academic schedule would not make much of a difference. Stanford University, the University of California suite, Dartmouth University and plenty of other great schools get by just fine by operating quarterly. In the admissions world today, where universities are fighting for the enrollment of dwindling classes each year, there seem to be other factors contributing to choice. My guesses are affordability (generally), prestige, value and location. It should be a serious consideration for the voting committee whether or not a switch to the semester system would truly increase any of these values– excluding location, of course. Have we weighed the merits of leaning into the uniqueness of our model?

From one student’s perspective, here are a few relatively realistic things that might actually help enrollment and retainment: an investment into the refurbishment of the Steinbright Career Development Center’s website, stronger relationships with potential co-op employers and better promoting of the co-op program and the benefits of learning on a quarterly system to prospective students. Additionally, more of a focus on student voice and involvement, transparency between the administration, faculty and student body, investment into student and faculty mental health resources and a larger focus on accessibility and availability of third spaces for students would all help.

I could go on and I am sure many of you could, too. But the main idea boils down to this – abolishment of the quarter system would eliminate many of the things that make this university competitive and unique. In other words: if we are afraid of falling victim to the problems that plague so many other universities, why would we so badly want to be just like them?