Cornell College approves new calendar to meet student needs

In order to prevent disruptions for students during this pandemic, Cornell College has approved a more flexible academic calendar that moves from eight to 10 blocks beginning in 2020-2021.

In a matter of days, college leadership drafted a plan and presented it to faculty. With overwhelming approval, Cornell’s One Course At A Time calendar (one class for three and a half weeks, repeated eight times a year) will now include two additional “flex blocks.”

“Faculty stepped up to create a new plan that builds even more flexibility into our calendar,” said President Jonathan Brand. “This bold new plan will not only allow students, but the entire college, to adapt right along with this changing crisis.”

The 10-block plan means that if students need to delay the start of their academic year due to the pandemic, they will still have many options to graduate in four years. In addition, students can choose to take all 10 blocks and accelerate progress toward a three-year degree.

“We are prepared to start the year on campus, which is our goal,” Brand said. “If necessary, though, we are also prepared to take it block-by-block, starting the academic year online and pivoting back to campus when it is safe to do so.”

If COVID-19 continues or reemerges this fall, this plan allows Cornell College to respond without negatively impacting students. For example, if faculty cannot offer a hands-on lab during an online block, it could be scheduled later in the academic year or in a summer block.

“While many schools across the country are testing schedules with similarities to our block system, it’s not our first time around the block,” Brand said. “We’ve been doing what most would consider a new thing, investing our time, treasure, and talents for 42 years and we’re virtually unique in the higher ed space.”

The flexibility of Cornell’s block plan has been pivotal to helping faculty and students navigate distance learning during this pandemic. Faculty are still determining the timing of the two additional summer blocks and which courses will be offered in that flexible format.

“We’re not just preparing for the next 18–24 months, we’re looking at the fact that the future of higher education is going to change forever,” said Dean of the College Joe Dieker.

When the crisis hit, many semester schools were left scrambling to help students finish several courses online. At Cornell, students already had six classes completely finished with two blocks left to go.

“People were hopping right into midterms on the semester schedule so they had to turn around and adapt all of their learning to online right before one of the largest exams of the year,” said junior Lindsay Smith. “For us, we just started a brand new class. It was an easy adaptation because it was the beginning of something new anyway for us.”

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About Cornell College:

Cornell College is a national liberal arts college established in 1853, located in Mount Vernon, Iowa. The historic, hilltop campus has a population of more than 1,000 students from all over the world. Our undergraduate students learn on a distinctive block plan schedule, taking One Course At A Time for three and a half weeks before starting the next course. This curriculum allows them to fully immerse themselves in their chosen topic of study, including taking field trips to another country, diving into research, creating an art exhibit, or exploring issues in the local community.


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