Why semesters and not trimesters

Lauren Vigar

There are multiple ways to divide up the calendar during an academic school year. The majority of universities currently use semesters, but there are alternatives to the semester system.

In 1978, Iowa State was using a quarter system as their means of dividing up the academic year. The quarter system divided the sections into about ten or 11 weeks per term, while the semester uses about 15 weeks. It was at this point major discussion was brought up and the school decided to switch to using a semester system said David Holger, associate provost for academic programs.

Another system, trimesters, has had no large-scale discussion about switching to it in a long time. Holger says that if the university were to switch to a trimester system, it would likely be divided into a fall, spring, and summer term, which would then lose the flexibility of summer that many students rely on.

Many students prefer to spend their summers at internships, studying abroad or having a job that will help them pay for the fall semester.

Our current system has benefits that not many people realize Holger said.

“It allows that time from mid-May to mid-August, to do alternative kinds of things, rather than another semester,” Holger said.

Another issue that arises from using a system such as the quarter system or the trimester system is that course credits could be different.

“A three credit quarter course did not have as much content as a three credit semester course,” Holger said, “It’s better to have that bigger package than the smaller one.”

While the trimester system could be divided into many different ways, using it with the summer as a full semester is not as beneficial as it seems.

“Summer is a time where we want to be as flexible as possible with our course offerings,” said Laura Doering, university registrar.

Many students have different plans as far as their summers go. Some would like to be completely done by July 4, while others prefer to have that break in between the end of spring semester and possibly a summer session two course, Doering said.

The summers are flexible times even for teachers. They are given options for when they would like to offer their classes in the summer.

The summer term is not offered in the same way that the fall and spring terms are offered, for the reason that they would like to provide the flexibility in the summer.

The semester system and the way courses are offered now is working for the university. Since the large-scale debate many years ago about switching to semesters, there have not been any large discussions about switching to something else.