As it has for decades, the spring semester at the university starts later and consequently ends later than almost every other comparable university. This semester, the first day of classes was on Feb. 5 and the last day of final exams will be on May 24.
Whenever considering policy, the university likes to compare itself to other major universities in the same general geographical region. For context, one of those universities is Pennsylvania State University, whose classes for this spring began on Jan. 8 and whose finals will end on May 4. Another is Rutgers University, whose spring classes began for this Spring on Jan. 16 and whose finals will end on May 9. A third is the University of Maryland, whose classes began for the Spring on Jan. 24 and whose finals end on May 18.
Another thing that is unique about the university is its relatively long winter break. One reason for that feature of the academic calendar is to give students the opportunity to enroll in classes during the winter session.
This year’s winter break was from Dec. 19, which was when fall classes ended, to Feb. 5, which was when spring classes began. That roughly adds up to a seven-week winter break for the majority of university students.
However, next year’s winter break will be a week longer, as it will go from Dec. 15 to Feb. 11, for a rough total of eight weeks. That extension will consequently make next year’s spring semester a week longer. For the Spring 2019 semester, classes at the university will begin on Feb. 11 and final exams will conclude on May 30.
The changes to next year’s schedule were likely made to avoid a conflict between Commencement ceremonies and Memorial Day Weekend. Such a conflict is present this year, when Commencement will take place on May 26, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
It makes sense for the university to want to avoid such a conflict. However, why would the semester be pushed up a week instead of back? Why would the university differentiate itself from its competitors by one more week and not one less?
A late end to the spring semester at the university has been the status quo for decades now. For example, my father recalls that when he was a chemical engineering student at the university from 1984 to 1988, the spring semesters always ended late into May. It is just how the university has always done it. The reason for the semesters always ending so late is not clear, but what is clear is how it affects students.
Such a schedule is a clear detriment to students’ summer plans.
Such a schedule affects the ability of students to take summer classes at their local community colleges. Many students choose to take community college classes because they can get ahead on their degree requirements and have to pay much less for those classes than they would if they were taken at the university.
For example, my local community college, Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, N.J. breaks its summers into three terms. The first term begins on May 14. For this year, university students would miss the beginning of such classes by 10 days. Next year, that first session will start on May 20 (of 2019). That means that university students will miss the beginning of those classes by 10 days once again.
The university could counter this point by saying that students can take advantage of the university’s winter session to take those supplementary classes, but price of winter session classes at the university, including housing, is far more expensive. Those easily transferable classes would be much cheaper in price if they were to be taken at a community college.
The university’s academic calendar also affects the ability of students to get summer jobs and internships. As a political science student, I am particularly interested in Congressional internships during the summer. The offices of one of my home state’s senators, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), break their summer interns into two summer sessions. The first session begins on May 21. If I were to get such an internship, I would have to miss the first four days of the internship.
Though Sen. Booker’s office would be willing to accommodate my schedule in that regard, as I confirmed in a phone call, it shows just how late the university’s spring semesters end.
If I were a business looking to hire college students over the summer, and did not have specified sessions like many Congressional offices, it would be natural for me to want someone who can start as soon as possible. A student from Pennsylvania State University, whose semester ends on May 4, would naturally get an advantage over a university student who would not be able to start working at that job for 20 more days.
The university’s unorthodox academic calendar puts students at a clear disadvantage with regards to students at other competitive universities. When the semester ends in late May, which it always has, the abilities of students to take community college classes over the summer and obtain summer internships and employment are negatively affected.
Jacob Wasserman is running for Student Affairs Senator within the Student Government Association