Cornell moving to an 8-block year

In January, faculty voted overwhelmingly to endorse the idea of moving from nine terms to eight terms a year. Adoption of an eight-term schedule for the 2012-13 academic calendar by the faculty in March finalized the decision.

The calendar change dovetails with the college's plan to increase enrollment to 1,300 or more students. Eliminating one block would mean six to eight more courses offered during each of the other eight blocks, which would allow for more depth and breadth in course offerings, according to Joe Dieker, dean of the college. Courses with enrollments below the cap of 25 can provide room for additional students without diminishing the experience of small, personal classroom experience. The move would also allow for greater enrollment growth without having to add as many new faculty members and without increasing the teaching load.

An eight-block year has other advantages as well. It reduces the length of the academic year—giving faculty and students more time to work on summer research projects, giving students better chances to find summer jobs and internships, and allowing students, faculty, and staff to better sustain their energy level, focus, and preparation over the course of an academic year. A condensed year also makes the college more efficient.
The new calendar would also foster more collaboration with other institutions and student programs because the academic year will be more in sync with other colleges and universities.

Right now, Cornell's classes start in early September and end during the last week of May or the first week of June. In 1978, when Cornell started using the One Course At A Time schedule, it was modeled after the schedule at Colorado College, which reduced its calendar and moved to eight blocks in 1988.

Will Dinneen, Student Senate president, said Senate worked to get opinions from as many students as possible as the faculty considered the eight-block plan. Many students expressed concern, but also understood the need for changing the calendar instead of cutting programs or increasing class size. One area Student Senate has focused on is changing the requirements for a degree. Dinneen said he and other senators would like to see the requirements become more interdisciplinary and more flexible as part of the switch to eight blocks.

Faculty are reviewing general education requirements so that students can better complete their all-college degree requirements in an eight-block year.

To offer students who need to miss a block opportunities to make up those classes in an eight-block schedule, the college plans to offer summer courses. The administration is examining off-campus courses, summer internships for credit, summer research projects for credit, Cornell courses online, and partnering with other colleges to provide online courses. Summer courses, which begin in 2013, will have the same high academic standards as those currently taught on campus, Dieker said.

The change won't impact one of the major benefits of One Course At A Time—the flexibility to study off campus. In fact, the college will be adding the McLennan Center, a Chicago-based classroom and residential facility which will enhance such offerings.