The Case for Year-Round Schools

Economic troubles are causing colleges and universities to consider ways to save money. But are elaborate schemes really necessary? One college president thinks that a simple change in scheduling will end up saving schools a pretty penny.

By Sarah Wright

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Saving Money by Nixing Long Breaks

Why come up with complicated solutions when there's an easy way to solve your problem? According to at least one professor, year-round college scheduling is a great way for postsecondary institutions to save money. In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Vedder, professor of Economics at Ohio University, proposes that colleges and universities in the U.S. adopt a standard of three 14-15 week semesters per year, rather than the current standard of two such semesters.

Doing so would help increase financial efficiency on campus, ensuring that, for example, upkeep for building on campus is being paid for by the students using them. Vedder uses this particular example of capital expenditure savings to compare empty classrooms and labs to the agricultural practice of letting land 'lie fallow' during one year out of a 3-year cycle. As agriculture switched to a schedule of 'continuous cultivation,' Vedder says, so should the academy.

Are Breaks Outdated?

In a speech cited in The Chronicle, President Steve Trachtenberg of George Washington University got down to brass tacks about the reason school breaks exist in the first place. Their original purpose, he points out, was not to incentivize teaching professions or give students an opportunity to augment their epic vacation story collections. Instead, agriculture was the impetus for a school structure of short breaks in fall and spring, with longer breaks in winter and summer. The idea wasn't for students to relax and take a break during this time, but rather to do work of a different kind.

Since very few students have a family farm to go home to these days, it can be argued that school breaks are outdated. And in addition to budgetary problems, there's another contemporary phenomenon that a year-round schedule can address: overcrowding. In 2006, before the financial crisis brought funding issues to the fore, Inside Higher Ed was reporting that Trachtenberg was lobbying for a year-round schedule in front of the U.S. Senate, citing limited space in classes and dorms as a motivating factor.

Other Potential Benefits of a Year-Round School Season

In addition to being a potential money saver for schools, a school year without extended breaks could be a benefit to students, too. To begin with, a three-semester year would allow for a shorter total duration in school. It could cut the standard four years down to two or three, depending on how ambitious the student is. But it could also help part-time students finish school in a more timely manner, making it easier to balance work and school without dragging out the process of earning a degree. As we've learned, attending school part-time isn't a recipe for success in most cases.

Another benefit to students is the fact that after college, life doesn't give you breaks. In most professions, you'll be expected to work year-round, with maybe a week off on top of major holidays. Getting used to life without summer break is a step toward maturity. Of course, burnout would be a very real possibility, since so many college students already feel undue stress with the current schedule. But perhaps a more rigorous schedule would give students experience in coping with stress and a high workload, which would be important practice for life after school.

Some faculty seem to think that school breaks are necessary to allow students to rest.

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