Trident Technical College is on the cusp of a bold scheduling experiment, which data indicates should dramatically boost student success, says President Mary Thornley.
The college, beginning in the fall, will run on a "compressed schedule," which means almost all courses will run only for seven weeks.
The average full-time student now takes four courses in a 14-week semester. Under the new system, those students will take two, seven-week courses in the first part of the semester, take a week off, and then take another two courses during the second part of the semester.
Courses that meet three times each week usually run for about an hour on the semester schedule, but they will run about two hours on the compressed schedule.
Thornley said Trident is the only school in the country to implement such a system campuswide. But she's willing to be a leader in the effort because she's confident students will do better. "The data is the reason the college is moving in this direction."
Many faculty members and students initially were resistant to the plan, Thornley said, but they're gradually warming up to it. "Most people don't like change," she said. "But if you're a faculty member, nothing is more satisfying than seeing students succeed."
Dub Green, a Trident research analyst, said the school in recent years gradually has been growing the number of courses it offers on the compressed schedule, and the results are remarkably positive. "I didn't think it would be this successful, not in my wildest dreams," he said.
During fall semester, more than 50,000 grades were given out to students who completed courses, and 67.9 percent of those grades were a "C" or better, he said. That's up from 63.5 percent in the fall of 2012.
School officials attribute the increase to more compressed-schedule courses being offered, he said. In the fall of 2012, only about 2,000 of the 50,000 grades given were of that type. But that number jumped to 13,000 in the fall of 2013.
During the current spring semester, Green said, about half of Trident students are enrolled in at least one compressed-schedule course.
Thornley said the school has been offering information sessions on the new system, which is important because it also will affect tuition payment dates, how financial aid is dispersed, and attendance and drop and add policies. "It's a re-education for employees and students," she said. "It's changing everything we do."
Thornley has said the new system doesn't violate the state's rule for Technical Colleges, which allows them to offer shorter courses as long as the number of classroom hours is the same as in a 14-week semester course.
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.