Educators Urge Focus on 'Year-Round' College: New Academic Calendar Would Help Low-Income Students, UNCF Leader Says

By Dervarics, Charles | Black Issues in Higher Education, June 3, 2004 | Go to article overview

Educators Urge Focus on 'Year-Round' College: New Academic Calendar Would Help Low-Income Students, UNCF Leader Says


Dervarics, Charles, Black Issues in Higher Education


A year-round college calendar with flexible financial aid rules would help low-income students stay in school and allow colleges to expand enrollment without new facilities, a Black college leader and other educators tell Congress.

The traditional fall-to-spring academic year, created two centuries ago when most Americans worked in agriculture, has fewer benefits for today's students and colleges, witnesses told a U.S. Senate panel. Under a year-round calendar, motivated students may complete their bachelor's degrees in three years, while students in remedial courses could begin college with a smaller course load, said Dr. Michael Lomax, president of Dillard University in Louisiana and incoming president of the United Negro College Fund.

"There are clear advantages to year-round college for students on UNCF campuses and at all institutions of higher education," Lomax said at a hearing before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

"Year-round college allows students, particularly Pell-eligible students, to pursue their baccalaureate degree in a more intense and focused manner," he said.

The new academic calendar would require significant changes in financial aid rules, however. Pell Grants generally cover two semesters in an academic year, which means students in a full-scale summer program may have to do without federal aid. To address this problem, UNCF is recommending that Congress create a three-semester, year-round academic calendar with a three-semester Pell Grant. The third-semester Pell Grant would be the same size as the grant for each of the two other semesters.

"Guaranteed year-round grant aid allows students to really commit to their studies without working so many hours and without assuming an overwhelming loan debt burden," Lomax said.

About 53 percent of entering freshmen must take at least one remedial course to prepare for the rigor of college-level work, according to Lomax. Many of these students would gain through a smaller course load early in their college careers, he said.

There is ample evidence that some students already are taking a slower approach to college, witnesses told the Senate panel. Only 36 percent of entering freshmen complete a bachelor's degree in four years, according to U.S. Education Department data. This trend could end if more students had the option to take a broader range of courses during a summer term. But while most colleges offer some summer programs, they generally offer only a fraction of the courses taught during the traditional school year.

Another advantage of year-round college is more efficient use of campus facilities, said Stephen Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University in Washington. …

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