Survey: students strongly reject proposed semester model
Majority favors fewer classes, pace and intensity of 10-week trimester
Augustana students "strongly" prefer the college's current trimester schedule to the administration's proposed semester schedule, saying the pace and intensity of the 10-week term allows them to stay focused and explore a variety of courses, as a recent survey shows.
The campus-wide survey, conducted by the Augustana Observer during the last two weeks, asked a series of questions on what students perceive as the advantages and disadvantages of each model. The results of the survey, which 316 Augustana students completed, support some faculty members' contentions that the current push towards a semester model may be harmful to Augustana's distinctive appeal as well as to its enrollment numbers.
"It would be a big mistake if Augustana switches to semesters, because we would be losing something that makes us unique," first-year Amber Dalgaard from Antioch, Ill. said. She believes she would have been unable to triple major if the college had been on semesters. This psychology and communication studies major plans on adding Spanish as a third major under the trimester schedule.
Some students said the potential change to semesters, which, if approved, wouldn't happen until the 2016-17 academic year, would have impacted both their decision to come and to remain at Augustana.
"The trimester schedule was a big part of the reason I came here, and I would definitely consider transferring if the trimesters were gone because it would directly affect my academics," Connor Lagman said, a first-year business administration major from Kenosha, Wis. "It's one thing if the college decides to build a new student center, but another if its decisions are going to directly affect my academics."
The mean responses in two survey questions show that students felt "strongly" that 15-week terms would be too long to study any given subject and that they "disagreed" that 15-week semesters would allow students to focus on subjects in a more in-depth way than a trimester model.
Senior graphic design major Kyle Pankow began his college career at Augustana, but left after two terms and transferred to Edgewood College in Madison, Wis. to be closer to his family. After one semester, however, Pankow said he felt the pace was far to slow for his liking and transferred back to Augustana the spring term of his sophomore year.
"The biggest thing with semesters is the fact that the same amount of material is usually covered that would be covered during a trimester, but the pace is so much slower," he said. "Unless you're constantly reviewing, the information that you're learning is a lot harder to retain. I feel like I'm going to be more prepared to meet deadlines coming from the faster trimester system than I would be if I were in semesters."
The mean response in two other survey questions showed that students "disagreed" with the idea that the pace of the trimester makes juggling classes difficult and that they "strongly agreed" that the pace of the trimester was ideal. On average, students surveyed also "disagreed" that the pace of the trimester was detrimental to learning.
The survey also showed that for incoming students the trimester system was, on average, "an influence" in their decision to come to Augustana.
"It's one of the main reasons I came to Augustana," said Alyse Suffield, a first-year elementary education major from Downers Grove, Ill.
Students said they were concerned about having to take so many classes simultaneously under the proposed semester model and felt it would not allow double or triple majoring.
"I like trimesters because you can take less classes at a time, allowing you not to be stretched too thin and to devote more time per night to each class," said Samantha Turner, a 19-year-old freshmen from Lake Zurich, Ill.
"It would be a big mistake if Augustana switches to semesters because we would be losing something that makes us unique," said first-year Amber Dalgaard from Antioch, Illinois, who believes she would have been unable to triple major if the college had been on semesters. The psychology and communication studies major plans on adding Spanish as a third major under the trimester schedule.
Administrators were divided in their response to the survey. Pareena Lawrence, the dean of Academic Affairs, acknowledged the significance of the students' reactions. "It is very important to take the survey into account as we make decisions about the future," she said, adding that she felt alarmed to hear that students would want to transfer if Augustana switched to semesters.
"We're in the modeling stage, we're simply studying it. Student input is very valuable and I need to talk to students," she said.
Kent Barnds, vice president of communication and enrollment, said the survey only reveals that the students are responding favorably to the model that they know. "It's not alarming at all because it's what the student body is familiar with," he said. "This is a faculty and curricular decision. The decision as I see it is really about reforming our curriculum. The calendar issue is connected to that but there is a desire I think on part of the faculty to address curricular issues. This is probably one of the most significant decisions our faculty will have to make on our academic program in the next 25 years."
Some faculty members agreed. "Students become creatures of habit and they don't like change. People are used to this and this is what they want to do," said Christopher Whitt, an assistant professor in political science. "I prefer the pace of a semester because I can do a lot of ground work in the first few weeks of the semester."
Other faculty members said the survey confirmed their suspicions: that students were worried about the number of classes they would have to take at one time under the proposed semester model. That, coupled with the increased load for faculty translates to an inferior system, they maintained.
"This new system I don't like because it means I'll be teaching three courses all year round instead of just for ten weeks. I can handle it for ten weeks but for all year? I don't know how I could do it," said Lendol Calder, professor of history. "I wouldn't be able to do it. I would have to scale back on the way I teach and it would be detrimental to students and to learning. Some people will say that the pace will be slower when you teach three classes for 15 weeks. I've taught every conceivable calendar throughout my career. I'm totally against it."
Vacation breaks were another issue addressed in the survey.
The survey showed mixed reviews about the current breaks schedule and that they are neither problematic nor beneficial.
Turner said she enjoys the current break schedule because it allows her to hold a job back home, while being a full-time student at the same time.
"The different breaks allows me to not have to compete for hours with other college students at my job back home," said Turner, who is double majoring in anthropology and history. "Since I have to pay for my school, the trimester schedule truly helps me out."
Some students however feel that the vacation break schedule is problematic.
"The only issue I see with trimesters involves the breaks," said sophomore Allison Frickman from Loveland, Colorado. "A three-week winter break is too long to retain an engaged participation in the middle of a term."
Some students who transferred to Augustana from other colleges on semester schedules said the current trimester system made it easier for them.
"I transferred here because trimesters would allow me to finish in two years and after two and a half years on a semester schedule, I would never go back to a semester school," said junior Emily Cudworth from Batavia, Ill.
A small number of students said trimesters made it hard to juggle classes during their first year when they are still learning time management skills.
"Ten weeks is way too fast," said first-year student Robert Goshorn. "All of the material and work that they try and cram into a trimester is too much."
Although the push for a semester schedule is only in the modeling stage, Lawrence said that the search for a better curriculum will benefit Augustana.
"Even if we don't go with semesters, just going through this process, talking about curricular realignment will infuse new programs and new experiences in our curriculum," said Lawrence. "Just by going through this process we will have a better curriculum, no matter what calendar."