Shortening Academic Terms Used as Strategy to More Equitably Serve Students

Achieving the Dream releases guidebook, workbook, and college spotlights for leaders

SILVER SPRING, MD—Achieving the Dream (ATD) has released two new tools for its colleges today, 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.

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.   

“Many of our ATD colleges are actively dismantling the traditional academic semester, at scale, to offer students timely on and off ramps for degree and credential attainment,” says Dr. Karen A. Stout, ATD president and CEO. “These shorter terms provide learners important flexibility and create opportunities for credit momentum. They are an important strategy to increase access into colleges and to support more equitable completion.”

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

1.      Decision making  

2.      Purpose and case making  

3.      Strategy  

4.      Academic Planning  

5.      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.

Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 300 community colleges committed to helping their students, particularly low-income students and students of color, achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity. ATD is making progress in closing equity gaps and accelerating student success through a unique change process that builds each college’s institutional capacities in seven essential areas. ATD, along with nearly 75 experienced coaches and advisors, works closely with Network colleges in 45 states and the District of Columbia to reach more than 4 million community college students. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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