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Block-scheduling approved by freshmen and colleges

Graphic by Kevin Black

Graphic by Kevin Black

When landscape architecture freshman Marissa Mondon arrived at Cal Poly, she expected to be handed a schedule, just like every other freshman attending. But she didn’t receive her schedule because her high school hadn’t sent her transcript in time. The stress most freshmen probably felt at their first day of class was amplified when she had to crash all four of her courses.

“I felt isolated, because no one else was in the same boat,” Mondon said.

Over the summer, 3,820 freshmen were scheduled into their fall quarter classes. The block-scheduling program worked, as evidenced by feedback from freshmen and by an increase in the average unit load freshmen take — from 12 units last fall to 16.

History freshman Liz Goralka said most of her friends are only taking 12 units, but she’s taking 16 because a professor at the summer orientation program SOAR advised her to.

“Most people I know except the honors students are in 12, but I signed up for 16 anyway. It’s kind of stressful, but not the worst thing in the world … It sucks that other people can go out and have more fun than I can,” Goralka said.

It will be easier to stay at 16 units than to transition from 12 to 16. Plus this way she won’t have to catch up later on, Goralka said.

“I might as well start hard and let it get easier. It’s manageable; it’s not like I want to kill myself every night,” she added.

Provost Robert Koob presented the idea of block-scheduling each freshman’s fall quarter classes last winter. Using information submitted by each department about what classes each major should be taking in fall, the provost’s staff assigned freshmen their classes over the summer, instead of letting them register for classes as students have done in the past.

Associate Registrar Debbie Arseneau said the point of implementing this new program was to keep students from falling behind by taking prerequisite courses early on.

“The goal was to get students started on the right track to graduate on time,” she said.

Given the short time frame for implementing block scheduling, most feedback from the freshmen and colleges about the program was relatively positive.

Associate Dean Roxy Peck said the College of Science and Math was happy with the block-scheduling process and its results.

“We have had very few calls from students who weren’t able to get classes this fall — even continuing students,” she said. “There have been noticeably fewer calls from unhappy students and parents, which I think is a sign that we did a better job of getting both continuing students and new students into classes. The first week of classes was unusually quiet for us in that respect.”

Peck said she asked freshmen what they thought about block-scheduling, and the response was uniformly positive, even from students scheduled into 7 a.m. classes.

“Two students told me that they had friends that were attending other universities that were having a lot of difficulty getting classes and that they really appreciated having a full schedule,” she said.

However, there were a few issues with the process, including the scheduling of students with AP credit and those with extracurricular activities, College of Liberal Arts advisor Wendy Spradlin said.

“We have students coming in with numerous AP exams passed,” Spradlin said. “If the university doesn’t receive their scores in time, they can easily be scheduled into classes that they don’t really need. That defeats the purpose of the effort.”

Spradlin said that block-scheduling works better for majors that are heavily specified, where students have to take certain classes to fulfill a requirement, but for students who have more freedom in their curriculum, like CLA students, it doesn’t work as well.

It results in students being assigned a course to meet a GE area instead of getting to choose the course they’d like to take to fulfill that particular area. For example, a student might be assigned ECON 222 for D2 but really would have preferred HIST 213, she said.

“Freshmen who are block scheduled haven’t been forced to review their GE options, so the realization that a different course would have been more appropriate for their educational goals does not come till later … It’s just more efficient to let the students choose the courses they take to fulfill GE areas.”

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