The Trimester Solution

Purdue University is considering a novel approach to education reform: make students go to school all year. According to an article by Eric Weddle in the Lafayette, Indiana Journal & Courier:

Today schools officials said they would announce a plan Wednesday on how the West Lafayette campus would operate on a trimester schedule. In recent years, Purdue President France Cordova and others have hinted this would be a way for students to graduate quicker and for the campus to save money by being utilized year-round.

According to a news release, an optional third academic term each year would make more time for students to take part in internships, externships or study abroad programs that can sometimes increase a student’s graduation schedule past four years.

The idea behind the trimester system, in which the colleges divides the academic year into three equal portions 10 to 11 weeks long, is to allow students flexibility in terms of scheduling (equal terms allow students to attend the classes they need in the summer, rather than cram everything into fall and spring semester) and also maximize campus resources (libraries and gyms don’t sit idle for the whole summer).

The true potential for the trimester system to revolutionize Purdue and bring “significant change in how higher education is delivered in Indiana” is perhaps overstated, however

Many U.S. colleges moved to trimester systems in the 1960s in order to accommodate increased enrollment. About 70 percent of American colleges still use the semester system, which divides academic terms into two equal parts.

While it certainly looks promising, I’ve not seen any evidence to indicate that students in trimester-run colleges ultimately end up paying less money or graduating faster than their counterparts in other schools.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer