By Audrey Wilson
In the traditional community college academic calendar, students face barriers that can slow or even stop their progress toward completion. Minor issues like a malfunctioning car or severe problems like losing a job can all cause a student to withdraw from the semester.
In our most recent publication, Preventing Early Attrition, we profiled Trident Technical College’s decision to restructure the academic calendar into mini semesters to accelerate student progress toward completion. In the new mini-semester model, full time students take two compressed courses per each seven-week mini semester instead of the traditional four or five courses simultaneously during one semester.
“A roadblock that only causes minor tremors in a traditional student’s academic performance is more likely to be insurmountable for a nontraditional student.”
—William Watson, Director of Sparkpoint, Skyline College
Three benefits to the mini-semester model
1. Lowering the stakes of dropout
Students that face a non-academic hurdles mid-semester (e.g., illness, eviction) receive no credit for any of the work they completed before dropping out.
If students drop out in the second mini semester, they can still receive credit for the courses completed in the first mini-semester. Alternatively, if they must drop out in the first mini semester, they have the opportunity to return in the second mini semester to gain credit for their planned courses.
2. Eliminating late registration
Students who enroll a day or two before the term, or even after the first class session, are significantly less likely to persist from term to term.
To prevent any late registration, Trident Tech also adopted a strict policy about late registration: students who attempt to enroll in courses in the week before the start of the semester are denied and told they can enroll in the second mini semester. In this scenario, the policy reduces the wait period before starting courses from up to 18 weeks to just seven.
3. Developmental placement
Trident Tech mini semester results
19% Percentage point increase in developmental course success
14% Percentage point increase in college-wide course success
7% Percentage point increase in fall-to-spring retention
Students who are not college ready face semesters of developmental courses, which delay their enrollment in college-level courses.
The compressed mini-semester model at Trident Tech allows students to take two compressed sections of developmental math within the first 14 weeks of their time at the college. Students who successfully complete two levels of developmental math in the first two mini semesters can enroll in college level courses that require math by January instead of waiting a full year.
While the transformation of Trident Tech’s academic calendar was no simple task, the student success outcomes from 2014 speak volumes. Trident Tech saw increases in student success across courses throughout the college as well as increases in retention rates.
Want to know if mini semesters would work for your institution?
Download our Compressed Mini Semester Business Case Template to guide you through the key factors that should influence the decision to implement compressed mini semesters. Then download the full Preventing Early Attrition Implementation Toolkit.