Other area college students have J-term options, not U

The University has a May term in the place of the winter classes many schools have.

Liz Riggs

University students have a long winter break to look forward to.

But for several colleges across the metro, January is filled with school work, not lazy afternoons.

The University system has never officially offered a J-term – an intersession during the month of January – at least not in recent history.

Gary Engstrand, coordinator for the Senate Committee on Educational Policy, said the University was on the quarter system dating back to World War I, before it switched to semesters in the late 1990s.

“Before that, I don’t know,” Engstrand said about the previous academic calendar structure.

The organization of the quarter system left no room for a winter intersession, he said.

That changed when the University began discussing the transition from quarters to semesters in the mid-to-late 1990s.

During a 1995 Senate Committee on Educational Policy meeting, members discussed the possibility of creating an intersession.

At the time, J-term was mentioned as being preferable for some disciplines because “it extends the spring semester later, allowing more field work in disciplines that study outdoors,” according to the minutes from a Nov. 8, 1995 meeting.

The possibility of offering a May term was also discussed, because it could permit “agriculture courses to extend into the spring while still provid(ing) the opportunity for study/travel or more concentrated study.”

May term was highlighted because it would allow the school year to end early “for students who must maximize their employment.”

Ultimately, the University decided to adopt a May session, forgoing a J-term altogether.

Linda Ellinger, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education, said she’s found that the local institutions offering J-terms are typically the small, private colleges.

“We have the May term and that’s kind of a trade-off for what some places do with a J-term,” she said.

At Hamline University in St. Paul, J-term has been a permanent fixture for more than four decades. Until about 20 years ago, Steve Bjork, associate vice president for admission and career services at Hamline, said several semesters of J-term were actually required of undergraduate students.

While no longer a requirement, Bjork estimated that more than half of Hamline undergraduates currently participate in J-term. Offerings are more limited for graduate students.

“It’s another opportunity for students to meet requirements,” Bjork said. “It provides some flexibility Ö “

University English senior Steve Hall said the flexibility a J-term could offer would be helpful. Hall, who will graduate this spring, said he’s taken both May and summer sessions at the University.

“For me, I wish class was always like that: one at a time, for just a month,” Hall said.

The opportunity to participate in a J-term would be a great way to get one of two courses out of the way, he said, “and have a lighter load for spring semester.”

While Hall said the timing of May session is more convenient, having the option of winter classes could also be beneficial.

“It would be nice if both were an option,” he said.