Four-year plan will vanish with quarters

Next fall the University will switch from a quarter system to a semester system. The decision to end 80 years of quarters was made after long consideration, and, on the whole, it was the right choice. However, those in charge of the transition need to work to minimize adverse effects on students.
One area is of particular concern. It appears students will have to take five classes per semester in order to graduate in four years. This requirement might overwhelm many students unless those in charge take steps to ensure that five classes do not become too much.
One often-mentioned advantage of the semester system is that students will be able to go more in-depth into subjects that interest them. When the University adds an additional month to each term, professors may be able to add more content to individual classes. Unfortunately, it is here that a major contradiction arises.
If semesters allow professors to add more content to classes, then it does not make sense to require students to take more classes per semester to graduate on time. But when this subject is brought up, the explanation changes. Peter Zetterberg, director of the Office of Planing and Analysis for the University, has said that under semesters, students’ workloads will actually drop, because professors will spread one quarter’s work over a semester. This is not what is occurring in most departments. Departments plan to put all three quarters’ worth of material for a sequence of classes into the two semesters.
While this contradiction might not seem all that important, its effects could be enormous. On the one hand, professors now feel free to increase the level of work required of undergraduates. On the other hand, the administration feels students will take five classes a semester in order to graduate on time. It is students who will be caught in the middle. Very few students are able to truly handle taking five classes, whether on quarters or semesters.
One of the reasons the University is switching to semesters is that the vast majority of other universities around the country operate on semesters. Yet most schools do not require their students to take such a heavy class load. At other Big Ten schools, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Michigan State University, the average student takes four classes per semester. Numbers are similar at Hamline University and Macalester College. The University would still be very different from most colleges if it required five classes per semester in order to graduate in four years.
The decision to switch to semesters is ultimately a good one. While certain students will no doubt suffer as a consequence, the number who will benefit is far greater. That does not mean the Board of Regents should not pay careful attention to the new requirements for students. They need to either make it clear to professors that the increased class length does not justify drastically increasing the workload on students, or they must reconsider the number of credits needed to graduate. When the University switches to semesters, students should not have to choose between good grades and graduating on time.