Researchers, professors, administrators and even governors have been debating higher education’s academic calendar since at least the middle of the last century.

The argument often boils down to efficiency versus flexibility, with the semester traditionalists pointing toward costs, while the trimester — or even quarter — champions espouse the freedom, variety and intensive atmosphere in a shortened cycle.

And, over the last half-century, during economic boons, semester-based universities often felt pressure to re-examine their calendar, as trimesters provide more opportunities to bring new students to the school.


But in 2010, of course, the semester advocates have a strong foothold, and nationwide it’s the trimester/quarter-based universities who are officially reviewing their academic calendar.

Dr. Ken Hill co-authored an internal study for Atlantic University in Maine. The school has used a trimester system for over 30 years, but has periodically felt pressure to adjust for financial reasons. “Obviously, the cost discussion picks up in times like these, and when the vast majority of schools around you are semester-based, it becomes a natural question,” says Hill. “Most students definitely wanted to stay with trimesters. They enjoyed not being totally locked in — in terms of courses — for long periods of time.”

Hill did find that significant savings could be achieved — cutting a third from many recurring costs. Ultimately, Atlantic decided to stay with trimesters, and Hill discovered that the academic calendar was deeply engrained in the school’s identity. “It’s what everyone was used to. The alumni turned out to be really connected to it,” he explains. “The discussion is probably finished for the next five to 10 years. I think you run the risk of looking like you don’t know who you are or what you want if you continually re-examine it.”

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