Task Force Suggests Changes to Academic Calendar

Modifications Would Be Phased in Over Two Years

Atlanta, GA

Georgia Tech students could soon have more time to prepare for finals and an extra day off at Thanksgiving, thanks to proposed changes to the academic calendar. 

A task force drafted a proposal in early January with five key recommendations for modifying Georgia Tech’s academic calendar. The group of students, faculty, and staff focused on changes that were based on recommendations made by previous committees and white papers; were in compliance with University System of Georgia (USG) policies; and did not significantly change the existing spring-summer-fall structure. 

Per the proposal, starting in fall 2015, classes would not meet on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, giving students an additional day for their break. A change implemented as a pilot this spring will continue to stand, which eliminated finals being held during the last exam session on the Friday before Commencement to prevent finals overlapping with graduation festivities. Starting the next academic year, it was approved to extend the individual course withdrawal deadline by two weeks, allowing students more time to evaluate whether to drop a class.

In Spring 2016, the current Dead Week would be replaced with Final Instructional Class Days and Reading Periods. The new schedule would designate Monday and Tuesday of the penultimate week of the semester as Final Instructional Class Days, followed by a day and a half of reading period, and administering the first final on Thursday afternoon. Finals would be broken up by that weekend and resume Monday, with an additional reading period the next Tuesday morning. Finals would finish that Thursday, allowing Friday for conflict periods and a day between exams and Commencement.

“Adding reading periods before and during final exams week so students have more time to prepare is one of the most important changes we can make to our calendar,” said Steven Girardot, associate vice provost for undergraduate education who co-chaired the Academic Calendar Task Force with Paul Kohn, vice provost for Enrollment Services. 

When benchmarking against peers and other USG institutions, Georgia Tech was one of few universities that did not already have a reading period of this kind. 

In many cases, Tech students were found to spend more time in class than at peer and USG institutions. 

“The fact is that Georgia Tech students spend a lot of time in school,” said Laura Margaret Burbach, vice president of Academic Affairs for the Student Government Association (SGA). Burbach participated in the academic calendar task force and helped draft a white paper last year from SGA on the topic.

For Burbach, getting the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is an immediate relief, but the changes to dead week and final exams will be the biggest change for campus.

“I hope it does a lot for alleviating student stress by incorporating additional study time, giving a true end to the semester, and letting students celebrate graduation,” she said.

Beyond Next Year

The complete task force recommendations that would be phased into the calendar during the next two years include:

  • Replace Dead Week with Final Instructional Class Days and Reading Periods and wrap final exams around a weekend. (Beginning spring 2016)
  • Eliminate final exams on the Friday before Commencement. (Implemented as a pilot in spring 2015)
  • Add additional class holidays around Thanksgiving and July 4. (Beginning fall 2015)
  • Begin the spring semester no earlier than the second Monday of January. (Beginning Spring 2016)
  • Modify class length and breaks (contingent on final approval). (Beginning fall 2017)

The final recommendation would extend the length of Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes during spring and fall semesters from 50 to 55 minutes. Breaks between classes would extend from to 10 to 15 minutes. These extensions would ultimately mean the required number of instructional hours, per USG policy, is met in fewer days, giving additional flexibility for holidays or breaks during the semester. This recommendation has been approved in principle but will get additional study and potentially final approval at a later date. If approved, the change would go into effect in fall 2017.

“Right now you get significantly less class time in a Monday/Wednesday/Friday class than in a Tuesday/Thursday, so in more challenging courses, you get a lot more time with the material in a Tuesday/ Thursday section,” said Burbach. “This would make them more comparable. The longer time in between classes would make it easier for students to get to class across campus.”

The Process

The calendar changes have been approved by the Student Regulations Committee and will go before the full Faculty Senate for approval at its meeting on April 21. The Office of Undergraduate Education will hold an informational session on Friday, April 17, from 9 to 10 a.m. in the Student Center Theater to review the proposed changes and answer questions from the campus community.

Students have voiced concerns to Tech administrators about aspects of the academic calendar in recent years. The 2013 SGA white paper proposed three changes, two of which were the delayed withdrawal date and wrapping finals around a weekend. Both of those changes will be implemented by spring 2016. 

“With everything we’ve done the priority has been what’s in the best interest of our students and reducing stress,” said Girardot. “Faculty will also benefit by having more time to grade and to prepare for their own holidays.”  

Last revised August 1, 2017