Is winter session too long?


The university’s extended winter break has long been something that has set the university apart from other schools. Though the university encourages students to make the most of winter session, an informal poll conducted by The Review indicates the majority of students at the university believe changes could be made to the condensed winter semester.

Daniel Rich, former provost of the university and current public policy professor, stated in an email message that the “Winterim” session was started in 1970 and was devoted to certain progressive courses and projects. At that time, Rich said, winter session was only two weeks long, until it switched over to a five-week session a few years later.

Winter Session Activities
43 percent of students were enrolled in academic classes, according to an informal poll conducted by The Review.

The change to a longer session, Rich said, enabled students to take a wider range of courses or take advantage of other programs offered by the university, such as the budding study abroad program. From that point, winter session grew quickly, as the number of courses and programs offered increased quickly, as well as the number of enrolled students.

The longer break does not come without its disadvantages. Rich said the late ending of spring semester as a result of winter session could negatively impact some students in their search for internships or employment over the summer. Additionally, Rich said students who opt out of winter session may have trouble occupying their time.

“In my view, many more students experience advantages from Winter Session than those who experience drawbacks,” Rich said.

Students seemed to believe the extra session takes up too much time. Of the 200 students polled, 60 percent answered that the break is too long, while about 38 percent answered that it is the right amount of time. Three students answered they believed winter break is too short.

Nancy Brickhouse, deputy provost of the university, said she believes the longer break provides students with an advantage over other schools. Brickhouse said winter session and the study abroad programs associated with it are a major appeal to students who are considering enrolling at the university.

However, Brickhouse said there are changes in the works for some aspects of winter session. Starting in the fall semester of 2015, the school will begin to offer study abroad programs that are only three weeks over winter session, as opposed to the usual five.

“We are looking at ways of perhaps packaging winter session differently, and that will be a case where we will be very interested in feedback from students,” Brickhouse said. “This year, the break was unusually long, and I thought it was too long too.”

The majority of students polled do believe the longer break affords more opportunities to pursue personal or academic interests and in that way provides students at the university an advantage over other schools. On the other hand, 34 percent said coming back to school sooner for the start of spring semester––a common characteristic at many other universities––is a greater benefit.

During this past winter break, about 43 percent of students polled took an academic class, while about 24 percent spent their time working and another 11 percent spent their time traveling. Twenty-two percent classified their activities as “other.”

Regardless of how they spent their breaks, 68 percent of students polled said they believed they were productive and took advantage of their time off, and 60 percent said they believe generally students at the university take advantage of winter session.

Rich said he believes winter session gives students an advantage over students at other schools, primarily because of the opportunity it provides to continue progress toward a degree or to participate in something they would not normally be able to pursue if the extended break did not exist.

“Many more students are able to participate in study abroad at during Winter Session than would be able to take advantage of study abroad at other time of the year,” Rich said. “Many students do take advantage of the courses and special programs offered in Winter Session, and many more should take advantage of those opportunities.”

Another common complaint from students polled was that certain classes can be difficult to master during the five-week winter session, possibly leading to lower grades.

Rich said while it is more challenging to learn the same material as a normal semester-length class during a shorter period of time, winter session allows students to focus more on one or two courses as opposed to a full course load.

Brickhouse said the university is cautious about the schedule and has tried to keep student job and internship opportunities in mind when creating it. Although the schedule has not, to her knowledge, blocked someone from obtaining an internship, that is a situation the school would need to know about to correct if it arose, she said.

“One of the things we have taken a very hard position on is that we never go into June, we always end in May, and that is so that students do not lose internship opportunities,” Brickhouse said. “However, if it still putting students at a disadvantage for internships, that is information we need to know.”

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