Shortening Academic Terms Used as Strategy to More Equitably Serve Students

On May 24, 2021, ATD released two new tools for its colleges, a Shortened Academic Terms Guide and an accompanying workbook to support the growing number of institutions across the country shifting from traditional 14- and 15-week semesters to shorter academic terms.  This is the second guidebook released by Achieving the Dream this month. 

The guide and workbook are shaped by the experience of colleges that have made a scaled transition to shorter terms. It also includes strategies and best practices as well as resources to help peer institutions prepare for and implement the transition to shorter and more flexible terms. Colleges participating in this project include Amarillo College, Grayson College, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Odessa College, Trident Technical College, and Waukesha County Technical College.

Historically underserved, part-time, adult, and student parents can all benefit from the flexibility of shorter terms.

The guidebook notes that historically underserved, part-time, adult, and student parents can all benefit from the flexibility of shorter terms. Fewer courses for shorter periods of time, combined with options for continuous enrollment, can help students with complex lives stay enrolled, maintain momentum, and complete successfully.  

Preparing a college to offer courses in flexible formats is transformative work that involves more than academics alone. Colleges that successfully transitioned to shorter academic terms engaged this change systemically, breaking down silos and collaborating across the organization. Successful colleges ensure that their policies and procedures college-wide do not create unintended barriers for students. The college spotlights included with the guidebook highlight six different college journeys, their key decision points, and their lessons learned.   

Five phases of work

The workbook divides the planning into five phases of work including:  

  1. Decision making  
  1. Purpose and case making  
  1. Strategy  
  1. Academic Planning  
  1. Support planning  

Each phase includes activities to help colleges make key decisions, including considering required stakeholders, important data and strategy questions, communication planning, required training/professional development and planning for critical next steps. The workbook also walks colleges through key structural, process, and attitudinal changes that may need to occur during academic course redesign and student services changes that will support students in a transition to shorter academic terms.  

View the guidebook here


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