Penn’s fall semester in 2013 will begin earlier than it has in decades.
Provost Vince Price approved an academic calendar proposal for the 2013-14 school year on Tuesday that he had been considering for more than a month.
Fall classes in 2013 will begin Aug. 28, the earliest start date since 1974. New Student Orientation will begin Aug. 23.
The first day of classes this year was Sept. 7.
“The Council of Undergraduate Deans has been engaged in extensive discussions and consultations about the need to add instructional time to Penn’s academic calendar,” Price said in a statement. “We have now decided to adopt the new calendar proposed by the Council.”
Though the calendar keeps all current breaks intact, it will push fall break to Thursday and Friday, as opposed to its current Monday and Tuesday structure.
Additionally, during the week prior to Thanksgiving break, students will attend their Thursday and Friday classes in place of their regularly scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday classes.
These changes come as part of an effort to equalize the days of the week on which fall holidays occur, so that Penn remains in compliance with new state education standards.
In March 2008, the Pennsylvania Department of Education issued new regulations about college credit that use hours of instruction to define a credit. Under the Department’s “Curricular Credit Policy,” institutions are required to offer a minimum of 42 instructional hours for a semester-based course.
Due to holidays — along with the fact that the fall semester is typically a week shorter than the spring — a number of fall classes at Penn currently meet for just 36 hours.
The University is up for a reaccreditation review in 2013-14 by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education — one of eight regional accrediting organizations for higher education institutions recognized by the United States Department of Education. Penn must adhere to the new state regulations in order to be reaccredited by Middle States.
“We believe that this will be the most effective and least disruptive way to prepare for our upcoming Middle States reaccreditation,” Price said. “We know that this change, while necessary, will not please everyone. We will work assiduously, with our partners across the University, to minimize its potential impacts on faculty, students and staff.”
Middle States spokesperson Richard Pokrass added that, despite Penn’s standing as a top private institution, “we don’t make exceptions when it comes to assessing [legal] compliance in an accreditation review.”
The calendar proposal received mixed reviews from students and faculty when CUD was considering it earlier this year. Although many students on the Undergraduate Assembly and Student Committee on Undergraduate Education supported the calendar, others expressed concerns.
For some, the notion of having to return to campus as early as mid-August prompted anxiety over whether off-campus realtors would adjust their lease schedules accordingly. Currently, many off-campus leases do not start until late August or early September.
Additionally, a number of faculty and staff who are parents of younger children raised concerns about the scarcity of local child-care options at the end of August, said Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning in the Provost’s Office Rob Nelson. Because many day-care services in Philadelphia do not begin until after Labor Day, these individuals wanted to ensure that their children had someone to look after them while they were at work.
Over the next few months, “we’ll be making sure that our communication is growing and that we’re aware of any similar issues that might arise,” said Nelson, who drafted the initial calendar proposal. He added that he has already been in touch with Penn’s Off-Campus Services to discuss housing issues.
Looking back, Nelson believes the newly implemented 2013-14 calendar will “do the best job possible of mitigating disruption to the schedule while complying with the [reaccreditation] issues we’re facing.”
“Will a decision like this have unintended consequences? Certainly,” he said. “We’re going to be sure to address any of those consequences that may come up … This process definitely isn’t over.”
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