Year round college discussions well underway
New scheduling would cut sessions to three 15-week trimesters
By Wendy Mills
Staff Reporter
May 11, 2000

Do you dream of spending April in Paris? Or September in New York–without having to delay graduation? That flexibility may be an option for Modesto Junior College students a few years down the road.

MJC administrators, faculty and a few students attended a Strategic Conversation Tuesday night, May 2 to discuss whether MJC should change from its current academic schedule to a year-round trimester system. The idea has been around for at least two years, when the district commissioned an independent study to find how students felt about different scheduling options. Overwhelmingly, students favored shorter semesters.

Those present at the meeting also responded favorably, although there was many concerns.

Strategic conversations are informal forums designed to encourage communication between the Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees, faculty, students and the broader MJC community.

“Tonight we are here to think, plan, brainstorm and put ideas on the tables,” said Chancellor Pamila Fisher.

Fisher explained that no decision would be made (that night), but that the administration was interested in knowing what faculty, support staff and students thought about the concept, and to encourage them to speak freely, regardless of their position in the MJC community.

The proposed trimester system would create three equal academic sessions running 15 weeks each. There will be about a two-week break between each session. Students could enroll in any two, or all three sessions, to be considered a full-time student. Full-time faculty would teach two out of three semesters.

Topics discussed included: Benefits of the trimester system, cost of implication, increase of instructional hours, whether the year-round schedule would coincide with CSU or UC calendars, impact on facility, staffing and student services.

Benefits could include a wider variety of classes and more scheduling options, increased flexibility in completing the degree and certificate programs, the chance to graduate faster if students enroll in classes year-round, or to take a trimester off during the season that is most convenient for working students and parents.

Studies also show that more students actually complete classes and stay in school when there are fewer weeks in the semester (trimester), according to faculty member Diane Wirth, who followed the success of similar transitions in other California community colleges.

At colleges such as Pierce and Santa Monica Community College, “Students retention and success is greater, and faculty are very happy with it,” said Wirth. “ The Opportunity (it provides) are extraordinary for both faculty and students.”

A main concern among faculty members was whether funds would be available to hire additional faculty to handle the influx of students,especially in the new, extended summer session. They were also worried about having enough support staff, maintenance, and security to handle the increase in students and academic tasks. Impact on financial aid awards, coordination of our calendar with other colleges, universities and high schools, and complications in class scheduling were also discussed.

“If it is out decision to do this, I think that there will be a lot of challenges and difficulties,” Wirth commented. She was nonetheless positive about the college’s ability to work through them.

A faculty/administration resource team is at work exploring these issues and will take responsibility for developing a set of recommendations that will then go on to the Board of Trustees. Negotiations between the Yosemite Faculty Association and the YCCD District will be another hurdle to clear, as there are many issues in the prospect of a year-round calendar that affect faculty. Eventually there will probably be faculty and student senate votes to affirm decisions reached in this lengthy process.

“Broad input is what has been valued all along,” said Stroud.

Although the trimester concept has been a long time in development, it appears that the school is ready to move on it when all the issued are ironed out.

“The reason it took so long is we were prepared to hate it,” said Faculty Senate President Stephen Stroud, but after studying the plan’s success elsewhere, “I have been convinced that it could work.”