Sign at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
(David Middlecamp / San Luis Obispo Tribune photo)

After resisting for years, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo will finally switch from quarters to semesters at the direction of the Chancellor’s Office, President Jeffrey Armstrong announced on Monday.

Cal Poly will transition from a four-term quarter schedule (fall, winter, spring and summer) to a three-term semester schedule (fall, spring and summer) by the start of the 2025-26 academic year, bringing it in alignment with the 22 other California State Universities.

Armstrong announced the move to the campus community after receiving a push to make the transition from CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro.

“I understand that this decision may not be immediately popular at Cal Poly,” Castro wrote in an Oct. 13 letter to Armstrong. “Everyone at Cal Poly will be at least as well off as they are now, and probably will be better off under a semester calendar. From my perspective, this is a win for everyone — both folks who are at Cal Poly today and those who will find more opportunities to enroll and succeed there tomorrow.”

Cal Poly will be the final CSU to make the transition to semesters. Most recently, CSU San Bernardino converted from quarters to semesters in 2020.

Castro explained to Armstrong three main reasons for making the transition to semesters: First, Castro said the transition will ensure more students can transfer to Cal Poly from community colleges that are on the semester calendar — 113 of 116 California community colleges are on semesters.

“So many first-generation, low-income and underrepresented-minority students begin their careers at a community college and then transfer to a CSU campus to finish their baccalaureate degree,” Castro wrote in his letter. “Every barrier we can remove, consistent with providing excellent education, means that equitable access to the CSU is improved.”

Second, students on the semester system find that internships, summer programs and study abroad opportunities can require “awkward workarounds” as schedules clash, Castro said. He also mentioned that students moving from a semester-based high school or community college can find the quarter schedule “very difficult” since it moves at a fast pace.

“Moving to semesters creates new opportunities for student success,” Castro wrote to Armstrong.

Third, Castro said moving to semesters can improve “administrative efficiency” as some administrative tasks — such as verifying vaccination status, calculating academic progress, completing financial aid, hiring and on-boarding faculty and other tasks — must be done three times a year rather than twice.

“As stewards of public funds, and of funds paid by our students as tuition and fees, we have a duty to be as efficient and prudent as possible,” Castro wrote.

Armstrong said in his announcement to the campus community that he generally agreed with all of Castro’s reasons behind the push to transition to semesters.

“I believe Chancellor Castro raises valid points regarding the benefits of adopting semesters,” Armstrong wrote. “I support the chancellor’s requirement that Cal Poly begin the process of adopting a semester-based calendar.”

Academic Affairs Officials, College Deans Lay Out Rough Plan for Transition

Following Armstrong’s announcement to the campus community, Cynthia Jackson-Elmoore, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, Thomas Gutierrez, the chair of Cal Poly’s Academic Senate, and deans from each college at the university wrote a letter to faculty and academic affairs employees further explaining the scope of the work that the transition to the semester calendar will involve.

The letter explained that over the remainder of this academic year and into next summer, the deans and academic affairs officials will create a “conversion plan” to be in place by spring 2022.

That way, the university can begin laying the “groundwork for conversion process to begin in fall 2022,” the letter said.

“Over the 2022-23 and 2023-24 academic years, we will need to map our curriculum to the semester system and design our current and new courses to account for this change,” the letter said. “In the 2024-25 academic year, these changes will be reviewed in close partnership with the Academic Senate and additional stakeholders, and our catalog will be updated.”

All of the notes — from Castro, Armstrong and the academic affairs officials and college deans — mentioned how complicated the transition will be for the university.

“This is a decision that has been made in order to achieve student success, equity on campus and institutional efficiency,” the letter from the academic affairs officials and college deans said. “There will be challenges on this road, but we have every confidence in our university community to meet and rise above them.”

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[Noozhawk editor’s note: UC Santa Barbara and most other University of California system schools use the quarter schedule. UCSB’s fall quarter started Sept. 23 and the last day of instruction is Dec. 3, followed by finals week.]

Mackenzie Shuman

Mackenzie Shuman, San Luis Obispo Tribune

Mackenzie Shuman is a reporter for the San Luis Obispo Tribune. This story is reposted with permission.