Growing up on a farm has given me a deep appreciation for having my summers off from school. Having high school wrap up in June meant there would be hay ready to bale, the wheat and barley would finally be stored away in the grain bin and the ground would be worked for the following season. Before I knew it, September would be here again and back to school I would go. While I fully recognize that this is by no means a typical experience, it’s common that students use the summer as a time to reset, make some money, have fun enjoying the summer weather, or just not think about school for a while.
What if my university offered a full array of courses all year round going to a three semester schedule rather than just two? It would surely mean a fundamental shift from the traditional schedule that students experience in their elementary and secondary school. However, how would it change the post-secondary experience?
Certainly, there would many opportunities for students to be able to customize their schedule over the course of a year instead of just eight months. The obvious benefit is that students will be able to finish their degree sooner and consequently enter the job market faster. In addition, students could repeat courses faster, if they need the credit to graduate.
Given these opportunities, would full-year learning change how I schedule my university career? The reality is, not likely. Accelerating my university career is not an appealing proposition especially given the current job market. While university graduates were the most likely to retain their jobs since the 2008 recession, youth unemployment is at an all time high and there continues to be little demand for new high-skills jobs. But current economic situation aside, the time students spend in university is critical to student personal and professional growth. To reduce time spent in university would only limit the potential of learning outside of the classroom. Not to mention the burnout that may occur because of the constant flow of assignments and readings with no substantial break.
From the affordability perspective; if a student who does not qualify for OSAP were to take courses all year round, he/she would be completely dependent on parents or a job while in school for financial support. This is worrisome because students who work more while taking classes are less likely to do well in their academics. The current structure of requiring students to make a minimum contribution to their education would need to be adjusted; otherwise students simply would not be able to afford to go to university or college.
Although there is little incentive to use a three semester system to accelerate learning from a student perspective, this option does not go completely without merit. With courses readily available in the summer, students may choose to take the fall or winter semesters off as an alternative, which makes their year much more flexible and customizable. While I am likely to continue to retreat to the farm during the summer months, other students may be able to find student employment more easily during the winter or fall semesters. There is value in this option, but it must be carefully weighed against the cost to the system; providing the same level of programming for considerably fewer students during the summer months would be pretty costly. Some schools such as University of Waterloo do this successfully, but this is largely due the large co-op program that they offer, which places students in a paid position for part of the year when they are not in class.
There is no simple answer to whether or not year round learning is a good idea. The increased course availability to students may ultimately be beneficial to a select few; however the cost benefit may not make financial sense for the system considering the lack of current student demand for these options.
Want to weigh in? Leave a comment below, or get in touch with OUSA or with any of us here at your respective student associations – we’d love to hear from you.
Steering Committee Member 2012-2013, Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance
Vice President: University Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, Wilfrid Laurier University