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Ending Winter Term makes sense financially and academically

POSTED November 3, 2009 5:58 p.m.
As the State Legislature’s funding support for public higher education rapidly declines, the California State University system has been faced with unprecedented budget cuts that have had a major impact on all 23 CSU campuses.   
Cuts imposed on CSU Stanislaus alone totaled $13.5 million for the current academic year, nearly 20 percent of the University’s budget. We anticipate another round of state budget cuts for 2010-11. As a result, we have been working with the campus community to make difficult decisions that will balance the University’s budget while protecting quality education for students. All programs are being evaluated in order to reduce expenses and achieve greater efficiency. Serving the students is our top priority.     
The most recent impact of budget cuts and re-evaluating programs has been the elimination of Winter Term, as announced last week. The question of whether to cut Winter Term in favor of a more traditional academic calendar has been studied numerous times over the past three decades.   
After much consultation with faculty, staff, and students, the administration decided to replace Winter Term with a self-support inter-session and move our campus into a more traditional academic calendar consisting of two, 15-week semesters. This important and bold decision will hold faculty members accountable for teaching, save the University nearly $2 million, facilitate student progress toward graduation, and allow more students to take full advantage of their financial aid packages.   
Much misinformation has spread about the elimination of Winter Term.  The following points seek to clarify the facts surrounding the decision and provide the community at large with a more comprehensive perspective.    
1. Faculty are not required to teach during Winter Term even though they are paid for 10 months of teaching. Less than five percent of the faculty teaches a Winter Term course, which means that 95 percent of the faculty receives 10 months of pay for only seven months of instructional work. Replacing Winter Term with a self-support inter-session and expanding the fall and spring semesters to 15 weeks means that professors will now be held accountable for teaching a full load.
2. The new academic calendar will allow students to take full advantage of their financial aid packages during the fall and spring semesters. Currently, students who receive financial aid but do not register for Winter Term lose part of their funding because government aid is based on 30 weeks of classes. Only by moving to two, 15-week semesters will the majority of students stop losing financial aid because less than 50 percent of CSU Stanislaus students take Winter Term while over two-thirds of our students receive financial aid.  
3. A self-support inter-session will provide a greater variety and number of class offerings for students. All classes traditionally taught during Winter Term can still be taught during the inter-session in addition to new courses that will enhance students’ education. In order to ensure access to the inter-session, CSU Stanislaus will provide need-based scholarships to eligible students for the difference between self-support and state fees.   
4. Eliminating Winter Term in favor of two, 15-week semesters and a self-support inter-session enables students to maintain progress toward graduation. In fact, students will have an additional two weeks per semester and a three-week inter-session to complete their coursework. Students who wish to earn their degree in four years may take 30 units per academic year, which is unchanged from the current requirements.
5. Eliminating Winter Term allows CSU Stanislaus to move to a more traditional academic calendar and normalizes the campus with the rest of the CSU system. As a result, staff members are spared from spending exorbitant amounts of time making adjustments for reporting requirements and financial aid disbursements. Achieving these efficiencies when budget resources are scarce and staffing levels are reduced is crucial.
Times are difficult in the CSU system, but the campus community must work together in a collegial and collaborative manner in order to move CSU Stanislaus forward. In order to maintain academic quality and accessibility, we have a responsibility to re-evaluate programs and structures to ensure that they are the most efficient and productive ways for helping students attain their higher education goals.
Changing the academic calendar by eliminating Winter Term is in the best interest of students and the University, both short- and long-term. There is certain to be opposition from some faculty members because they now have to work four more weeks of the year just like faculty at other CSU campuses. Nevertheless, that is what they are paid to do.   
The budget challenges for public higher education in California are not over.  They will create ongoing discussions and decisions. But rest assured that through it all, quality instruction for students is the top priority at CSU Stanislaus.   
A detailed “Q&A” on the University’s new Academic Calendar is available on the CSU Stanislaus Web site at http://www.csustan.edu/academics/QandA.html.  
— Dr. Herman Lujan, Interim Provost at California State University, Stanislaus

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