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Davis, California

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Quarter system falls under scrutiny

Weekly papers and quizzes, endless midterms, little time to study before finals begin – the downsides to the quarter system can seem endless.

Now, a new article may provide some validity to our complaints.

The piece, written by clinical psychologist Nancy Rosenbach and vice president of academic affairs at La Guardia Community College Peter Katopes, was published in the education journal Inside Higher Ed. The authors argue that education reform in America places too much importance on the speed and efficiency of education, and not enough on the quality of the education itself.

“The emphasis in recent years has been on rapid credential attainment and ‘seamless transitions’ rather than on actual learning,” they wrote, contrasting this with earlier generations in which the knowledge – both bureaucratic and academic – gained during school often weighed more heavily the degree it produced.

Every UC school used the semester system until the late 1960s, until all campuses, including Berkeley, switched to quarters to promote year-round operation and increase capacity. Berkeley converted back shortly after, but all other campuses remained on quarters, said Robert Powell, chemical engineering professor and chair of the UC Davis Academic Senate, in an e-mail interview.

Currently, eight of the ten campuses including Davis use a ten-week quarter system.

Talk of switching to a semester system emerged at Davis in the late 1990s, but almost every group on campus – students included – opposed the change, Powell said.

Despite this, he acknowledged the increasing rarity of the quarter system among US colleges.

“As you look out across the country, in the last decade or two it’s possible to find examples of universities that converted to semesters, but I know of no university that converted from semesters to quarters,” he said.

Trends may be diverging away from the quarter system, but in response to the study’s argument, Powell insists that UC officials are primarily concerned with delivering the best education possible with the resources available.

“What may be perceived as an emphasis on increasing efficiency is usually dictated by outside factors – the way the state funds the University, budget, classroom size [and] limited TA support,” he said.

Though breaking the school year into quarters allows students to take a wider variety of classes, many feel that the system increases stress and cuts down the amount of material taught in class.

However, some students remain critical of the speedy quarter system.

“I think it causes the teachers to move through information way too fast in certain classes and spend one day on topics that deserve at least a week’s worth of attention,” said junior sociology major Abbie Lieberman.

Still, others appreciate the quarter system’s rapid pace.

“I honestly like the quarter system because it helps students get through their classes faster,” said Anh Chau, a senior evolution and ecology major. “It keeps you working hard to stay on top of things; with a semester system, there’s a lot of room for procrastination.”

Lindsey Pitman, a senior political science major, noted other benefits of the quarter system.

“If I have a hard quarter [or] professor [or] class, I only need to survive for ten weeks and then it is over,” she said, also pointing out that the system allows her to take a wide range of different courses in just one year.

Chau did mention the dangers of falling behind in the quarter system.

“If you don’t get something in lecture, you have to make sure you get help ASAP,” she said. “That might be hard since as students, we are taking at least 15 units and at times we cannot dedicate all the time in the world to one class while taking three other classes.”

In their article, Rosenbach and Katopes claim that students gain more from an education the longer it takes them to complete. They argue that by rushing students through the learning process, our education system teaches these students not to wait for gratification, and instead to expect instant results.

“Study after study has shown that delaying gratification allows space for experience and learning and leads to a psychologically healthier, more mature, more sophisticated individual,” they wrote. “The ability to wait for reward is at the basis of hard work, scientific inquiry, artistic creation and intellectual achievement.”

MEGAN MURPHY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.


  1. While the quarter system is fast, it’s better. I would rather have a fast quarter than a long, drawn out semester with a teacher I don’t like or material I don’t care about. It gives students a chance to try more classes out.


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