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Holistic Student Supports

Preparing for Shortened Academic Terms: Guide, Workbook, and Spotlights

Research & Reports
May 24, 2021

On May 24, 2021, ATD released two new tools for its colleges: a Shortened Academic Terms Guide and an accompanying workbook to support the growing number of institutions across the country shifting from traditional 14- and 15-week semesters to shorter academic terms.

The guide and workbook are shaped by the experience of colleges that have made a scaled transition to shorter terms. It also includes strategies and best practices as well as resources to help peer institutions prepare for and implement the transition to shorter and more flexible terms. Colleges participating in this project include Amarillo College, Grayson College, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Odessa College, Trident Technical College, and Waukesha County Technical College.

Preparing for Shortened Academic Terms: A Guide

Achieving the Dream developed this guide, accompanying workbook, and college spotlights to support the growing number of institutions across the country that are shifting to scheduling courses in shorter academic terms. This guide is shaped by the experiences of colleges that have made this transition. It is intended to be used with cross-functional college teams as they explore and plan for a transition to offering flexible term courses.

Download the guide

The accompanying workbook is designed to guide colleges through the preparatory and planning work that will help build shortened course formats at their institutions.

Download the workbook

The guide and workbook include tips and best practices from colleges as well as resources to help get institutional teams ready for this transition. The accompanying workbook divides the planning into five phases of work:

  1. Decision making
  2. Purpose and case making
  3. Strategy
  4. Academic planning
  5. Support planning

Each phase includes activities to help colleges make key decisions, including considering required stakeholders, important data and strategy questions, communication planning, required training/professional development and planning for critical next steps. The workbook also walks colleges through key structural, process, and attitudinal changes that may need to occur during academic course redesign and student services changes that will support students in a transition to shorter academic terms.

The guidebook notes that historically underserved, part-time, adult, and student parents can all benefit from the flexibility of shorter terms. Fewer courses for shorter periods of time, combined with options for continuous enrollment, can help students with complex lives stay enrolled, maintain momentum, and complete successfully.

Six College Journeys

Preparing a college to offer courses in flexible formats is transformative work that involves more than academics alone. Colleges that successfully transitioned to shorter academic terms engaged this change systemically, breaking down silos and collaborating across the organization. Successful colleges ensure that their policies and procedures college-wide do not create unintended barriers for students.

The college spotlights included with the guidebook highlight six different college journeys, their key decision points, and their lessons learned.

Amarillo College: Big Goals for Student Success

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Grayson College: Replicating Success for Students

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Northeast Wisconsin Technical College: Big Jump to Close Equity Gaps

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Odessa College: An Overnight Success Several Years in the Making

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Trident Technical College: Bold Strategy for Student Success

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Waukesha County Technical College: More Students Complete a Credential in a Timely Manner

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