The following story was featured in the Fall 2020 Providence Magazine. CLICK HERE to read the full magazine.
by Dr. David Corbin, Vice President for Academic Affairs
Much like all aspects of life, 2020 has brought with it many challenges to higher education. Forced to shift to a virtual delivery platform in mid-March to close the 2019-20 academic year, and with the return to in-person instruction uncertain in the fall, Providence’s faculty and administration set forth on a new plan for academics that once again proved necessity can be the mother of invention.
Many colleges and universities in California were wondering if there would be a return to in-person instruction in the fall. We wanted to give ourselves two bites at the apple; ideally, a return to in-person classes at the end of August, and, if impossible, a return for the second half of the fall semester. This required us to think through what it might mean to divide the fall semester into two eight-week terms to give our students the opportunity to return to Providence that they so greatly desired.
Yet, the more we thought through the advantages of the eight-week model, in terms of enabling students and faculty to experience increased emphasis, preparation, breadth, and depth by focusing (whether enrolled in or teaching) two robust four-credit classes per term, the more we sensed we were on to something that might serve Providence academics well beyond responding to the challenges of Covid.
Thereafter, faculty, staff, and administration worked through five new steps that made this transformation possible:
1. Moving from a three-credit hour to a four-credit hour system for each course.
2. Adding one week to the fifteen-week fall and spring semesters to produce two sixteenweek semesters.
3. Dividing the sixteen-week fall and spring semesters into two eight-week terms. (Fall Term 1, Fall Term 2, Spring Term 1, Spring Term 2)
4. Reconfiguring the Providence Core Curriculum so that it numbered 16 fourcredit classes (64 credits) in place of 24 three-credit courses. (72 credits)
5. Folding the Avodah experience into each four-credit course.
How it works is simple: every Providence student enrolls in a standard course load of two courses/eight-week term; each of these courses then meet for six hours of classroom instruction/week supplemented by a minimum two-hour Avodah experience added to each course.
The change has produced immediate results for students. Responding to the changes, thirdyear student Ben Moelker ’22 replied, “I find myself learning and understanding the material with greater ease because I can prepare and study for two or three courses at a time rather than previous semesters when I was juggling five or six classes. And the accelerated pace enables me to process the material and make better connections across the overall coverage of a subject.”
The change has also produced a greater amount of flexibility for students in determining their schedules and balancing their extracurricular commitments, which, in turn, has helped ease the anxiety and stress of the student body.
Some other hoped-for advantages as the new changes are implemented include increased credits dedicated to concentration course work (24 to 32 credits) and elective courses (24 to 32 credits), more streamlined and flexible curricular offerings that help in the recruitment and retention of student athletes, and, more acutely, some forward-thinking with regard to the changing higher education landscape.
Of great excitement to many parents and students is that the new curricular structure and map will allow many students to complete their bachelor’s degree program in three years by taking five courses/semester for three years, in addition to an extra course in the interim two summers. This will produce a 25% saving on tuition, room, board for many families and make a Providence education that much more of an excellent investment.