Semester shrink still in discussion

By Cody McFarland, Associate Editor

As faculty continue debating the possibility of compressing semester length from 18 to 16 weeks, students have begun familiarizing themselves with both sides of the argument and taking a stance.

While such a change would not occur at Contra Costa College until the fall 2016 semester, discussions are anything but pre-emptive, considering the district must form and submit its proposal to the State Chancellor’s Office at least one year in advance. That means by next semester at the latest a decision will be made, but will have yet to take effect.

To provide a glimpse of the CCC student perspective, The Advocate conducted an anonymous survey to gauge students’ opinions regarding the possible switch to a compressed calendar. The final census showed that of the 200 students sampled, nearly 59 percent want semester length to remain the same at 18 weeks. In contrast, only 27 percent favored the reduction to 16 weeks, and 12 percent did not claim a strong stance for or against.

To deem this remotely conclusive would be a mistake. In fact, what was far more revealing than the numbers were the comments students wrote candidly on the survey sheets.

Administration of justice major Sha’Ronda Jones said, “We do not have enough time in the current semester to learn all the material we need. Shortening the semester will only bring more stress to students and it’s likely some will feel pressured and may drop out.”

An anonymous student with an undeclared major wrote similar comments on his or her survey.

“Students need time to retain knowledge and not only test well, but be able to apply the things they learned in a real life situation,” the student wrote. “Condensing the semester would rush students to study and not really process what they are learning.”

The strongest counterargument offered by students relates the current calendar to those of UCs and CSUs.

An anonymous chemistry major wrote, “UCs and CSUs go on a quarter system, which is even shorter. I feel shortening our semester would better prepare those of us who plan to transfer to a four-year university.”

One consequence of shortening semesters would be longer class sessions, as students are still required to meet state mandated instruction hour minimums for course credit. A more favorable consequence among students is the possibility of lengthened summer sessions and the addition of a winter intersession.

A molecular biology major wrote, “It should happen because it would prepare us for the UC system that runs on a quarter system. It would challenge us to have better time management and a better work ethic. It would also let students graduate way earlier if winter classes were to happen.”

Sociology major Dominique Brooks said she likes the schedule how it is now, but would favor the switch if it meant only slightly longer class sessions.

Extending the length of individual class meetings could benefit many students by giving them more time with professors to absorb the material, Brooks said. However, if class length exceeds three hours, she said she could see students’ attentiveness decrease in the extended time and that the lengthy meetings may lead to scheduling conflicts with other classes and work.

“A huge increase in the time you have to be in class is not ideal at all, considering some people also have jobs,” she said.

Though the general presumption has been that lab-based classes and nursing majors would be the most opposed to making a switch because of already-rigorous course loads, the amount of sciences majors for and against the switch, according to the surveys, were proportional.

Since The Advocate last reported on the compressed calendar (The Advocate, Feb. 11) decision, further research on the potential benefits of compressing semester length has been made available.

These resources can be found online at the United Faculty website,, under latest news and the link titled compressed calendar data and discussion.

“The district is considering switching to a compressed calendar for student success purposes,” district Executive Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Eugene Huff said. “There is research out now that indicates it may increase retention rates. Our primary objective is to do something good for our students.

“The research also shows that students are better off with two longer class meetings than three shorter ones in a week,” he said.

Though the finer details have yet to be hashed out, if the district decides to switch to a 16-week semester system, a tentative yearlong schedule is published on the UF website for consideration.

The extended summer session is proposed as beginning June 6 and ending Aug. 6. Fall would span Aug. 24-Dec. 12 and the winter intersession is proposed to run Jan. 4-28, followed by the shortened spring semester beginning Feb. 1 and ending May 27. Of course, these dates are all subject to change.

Also posted is a study conducted in 2008 at San Joaquin Delta College is nearby Stockton. Though similarities between CCC and SJDC blur along the lines of student and local resident demographics, the study shows that average full-time equivalent student (FTES), student success and student retention rates all saw a slight increase after SJDC converted to a compressed calendar.

Community colleges in California receive state apportioned funding per FTES. One FTES is the equivalent of one student enrolled in 15 semester units or multiple students enrolled in a combined 15 semester units.

The addition of a winter intersession, as well the enhancement of the currently offered summer intersession, opens the door for more students to enroll and complete courses quicker than before, Huff said. Consequently, this means more potential FTES for CCC, which currently faces dwindling FTES totals as the result of declined enrollment. Though not facing the same decline, sister schools Diablo Valley and Los Medanos colleges would also benefit.

As of press time Tuesday, the faculty senate presidents for DVC and LMC, Laurie Lema and Silvester Henderson, respectively, were unavailable for comment.

Former DVC Associated Student Union president and current Senator Keith Montes said that he was aware of the faculty debate regarding the compressed calendar decision, but has not heard much student buzz about it around DVC’s campus.

If compressing the calendar guarantees the addition of winter classes, Montes said he absolutely supports the switch.

Considering some classes are successfully taught during intersessions elsewhere in as little as three weeks, the sociology and psychology double major said shaving two weeks off of spring and fall semesters is not necessarily a large adjustment for students to make.

“A class is just as unique as an individual,” he said. “What may be more challenging for some students will be a smooth transition for others. I’d recommend that students determine if it is feasible for them to take shorter classes, particularly intersessions, when weighed against their other life responsibilities.”

Montes said he believes that for the majority of students, making this switch to shorter semesters is well in the realm of possibility. But like with anything in life, there are two sides and various pros and cons, he said.

“Will it work for everybody? No, I don’t think it will,” he said.

If the change is made, which would take effect fall 2016, students concerned or stressed by the idea should seek academic counseling, he said.

Although the decision to compress the calendar is regarded as a districtwide decision, there are no rules against one college operating on its current schedule while its sister school or schools convert to a compressed calendar.

“The state office doesn’t require all colleges in the same district to have the same calendar,” Huff said. “Administratively speaking, it would be difficult to have the colleges operate on different calendars. It’s not that it’s impossible, it’s just not practical.”