It feels wrong that students at the University of Montana work so hard for 12 weeks, and then essentially get a week to check out, only to throw themselves into studies for another 10 days before finals.
UM’s Curry Health Center reported a steep rise in depression and anxiety last year. The Kaimin can’t help but speculate that perhaps the stress the semester system puts on students could be part of the reason.
Each semester, students spend a total of 15 weeks studying — excluding finals. During that time, there are few single-day breaks in the fall until Thanksgiving at week 13.
That lack of breaks makes the semester system exhausting for students. Students run a greater risk of burnout with this system, and missing a semester can set a student back half a year or more depending on the classes they need to take to fulfill their degrees.
The long sessions also limit the University’s ability to hold winter classes. When the University ended fall semester by Thanksgiving in 2020, it widened that possibility. Some remote students took advantage of those opportunities to knock out classes in the expanded winter session, so they could take fewer credits and have more time to focus on coursework.
The semester schedule hasn’t always been in play at UM.
From 1966 to 1989, the University used a quarter system, according to its enrollment guide. Students would take fewer classes in a shorter amount of time for each session. That meant students could place more focus on each class.
At the Kaimin, we believe bringing back quarters is in the best interest of students and professors alike. It offers flexibility for our peers and protects against the pitfalls of burnout.
With the semester system, course loads burden some students. Those seeking multiple degrees end up having to take 20+ credit semesters to fit in all their requirements. That can bog down students who want to explore outside a traditional degree’s curriculum.
The problem is so prevalent that UM Provost Pardis Mahdavi cites double majors as a reason to restructure the University’s colleges into more collaborative groupings. While the Kaimin sees this as a solution, we think the University could go even further by offering more sessions to take classes.
The quarter system generally breaks the year into four 10-week sessions: fall, winter, spring and summer. That offers more chances for students to take the courses they need to fulfill multiple majors. Breaks between each quarter would help students avoid burning out.
Plus, taking a quarter off has less of an impact, should students need to do so. It impedes progress much less than taking off a semester of classes. At a time when limited professors teaching in certain majors means some students might have one opportunity every year or two for certain classes, maximizing flexibility should be UM’s highest priority.
Offering four sessions each year makes a lot of sense. It offers more time to take courses, helps avoid burnout by offering more chances to have a break from intense academics and allows students to have more agency over the classes they take — both within their degree programs, and with taking time off from school if necessary.
There are logistics issues with any restructure. Credits would need to be reevaluated. But there are other schools near and in Montana that operate on the quarter system, like Eastern Washington or the University of Denver. In fact, much of the West Coast does.
The University says it is making big decisions for our future right now. Those decisions are visible on campus. We can physically see four large-scale construction projects, and the Kaimin has written multiple stories this year about the new provost’s plans to restructure academics.
If now is the time to make changes at UM, why not consider reinstating the quarter system in the academic talks?