Most students have bemoaned having classes scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving at least once during their time at Case Western Reserve University.
Jensen Turner, a second-year engineering student, is one of the many students impacted by CWRU’s academic schedule. Turner’s home in Everett, Washington, about a 45-minute drive north of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, is far enough away that leaving CWRU on late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning and returning to campus in the earliest hours of Monday morning just doesn’t work.
“With the timezone jump and the fact that there’s not a direct flight and the time it takes to get from CWRU to the airport and the airport to my house, for a four-day weekend, two days to see my family during one of the most expensive travel weekends of the year, it doesn’t really make sense,” said Turner. “Going there with the timezones, because you gain a few hours, it’s not so bad, but coming back is basically a full 12-hour day and then traveling there, with all the planning and stuff, is easily an eight-hour day.”
Turner’s experience is not atypical for CWRU students. For some, traveling home during the short four-day break is stressful, but still manageable. But, for others, the travel-time leaves too few precious minutes to spend with family, or the cost of traveling during one of America’s most expensive travel weekends can be prohibitive.
In addition to not spending Thanksgiving with his family, Turner also has to celebrate his birthday here at CWRU with other friends who cannot travel home over the break.
“It is interesting because it’s actually my birthday weekend as well, so both last year and this year, I’m spending it here and not with my family,” Turner explained. “Especially [last year], turning 18 and not being with my parents was an interesting experience.”
Turner did specify that spending his birthday on campus was not a bad experience, and he was able to have fun with his friends.
Even though Turner is forced to spend his birthday, the day where parents traditionally dote over their child, in CWRU’s dorms, he still sympathizes with the administration’s struggle to create a viable academic schedule.
“I definitely think [the schedule] is a little weird, I’m not sure if I have a great solution, but it is weird that student’s classes end right before Thanksgiving,” said Turner. “In general, I think it’s making the best of a weird time line-up.”
The reason CWRU holds classes on Wednesday is due to accreditation standards from the Ohio Department of Higher Education, which is responsible for executing Ohio’s laws governing higher education, and institutional policies.
The Department of Higher Education reviews universities’ programs of study and, if they meet requirements, grants them a certificate of authorization. CWRU’s certificate of authorization is valid through Dec. 31, 2025.
Ohio’s accreditation process puts significant importance on the amount of time students receive instruction, namely measured by the credit hour.
“Because the credit hour is the basis on which all degrees are awarded and credits are transferred among schools within and outside of Ohio, the definition of the credit hour should be consistent with current practice,” reads a directive from the department explaining the rationale for emphasizing the credit hour as a proxy for adequate instruction. Other accreditation regulations and federal guidelines are also considered, as well as uniform goals for higher education in Ohio.
Ohio defines a credit hour as at least 750 minutes of formalized instruction and, on average, 1500 minutes of out-of-classroom work.
Additionally, Ohio offers definitions of how long a semester should last and what characterizes a week included as part of a semester. A week of instructional time includes any day where either regularly scheduled instruction or examination occurs, meaning that finals weeks are included as weeks of instructional time in Ohio’s definition. Ohio’s Department of Higher Education clarifies that the length of a semester should be between 15 and 17 calendar weeks; however, the amount of instruction is prioritized over semester length.
“The inclusion of breaks or holidays within any particular semester shall be at the discretion of the institution so long as the institution is in compliance with the criteria that defines a week of instructional time, and is in compliance with the criteria for awarding semester credit hours,” according to that same directive.
CWRU also, internally, has rules governing how each semester is constructed. Each semester needs 70 teaching days, two reading days and six final exam days. Additionally, the fall semester can only have five scheduled holiday days.
According to a statement from the university, CWRU’s administration has considered adjusting the academic calendar “occasionally over the years.” However, no change has been implemented because it is difficult to find a different day to make up classes. The university has considered a variety of changes, including starting the semester earlier or ending it later, reducing the duration of fall break, remaining open for Labor Day, eliminating one of the finals week reading days or holding final exams on weekends.
“To date, none of those choices has appealed enough for the calendar to be changed,” stated the university.
Additionally, the administration is also concerned that giving students the day off on Wednesday will isolate international students or other students who live too far to travel and incentivize students to skip classes on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
The Undergraduate Student Government (USG) understands both the rationale for holding classes on Wednesday and the strain it puts on many students trying to return home for the holiday.
Bidisha Raychaudhuri, vice president of USG’s Academic Affairs Committee, recognizes the scheduling constraints that the university has to work around.
“Basically, we need an equivalent number of hours for both Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes and Tuesday-Thursday classes so they can both be counted for the same number of credits,” said Raychaudhuri. “Labor Day off in September, fall break and Thanksgiving break all kind of work to make sure that it’s relatively equal.”
Although the Academic Affairs Committee is not currently working to fundamentally change CWRU’s academic schedule, Raychaudhuri and the other members of the committee have examined other ways to make traveling home easier for students.
“One thing that we were exploring, though, is requesting that professors not schedule exams on that Wednesday, but no further work has been done regarding it,” Raychaudhuri explained.
Although a number of changes to CWRU’s formula for creating each semester’s schedule have been implemented in the past, the school has yet to find a solution that satisfies everyone.