[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Community College Daily.]
The block model for academic scheduling is an age-old idea that has recently found international appeal.
Notably, only a handful of mostly private, small liberal arts colleges and universities in the U.S. currently use the block model, including Cornell College (Iowa), Colorado College, Tusculum University (Tennessee) and University of Montana Western. But a recent Australian version may provide new inspiration and spur more out-of-the-box innovation here in America as U.S. higher education institutions—including community colleges—evolve and continue to seek promising practices that can increase student retention, success and completion.
Under a traditional class schedule, students study four subjects at the same time over the course of a 16-week semester. The block model differs in that students study only one subject at a time. Each subject (a block) is taught more intensely over a shorter, four-week period.
In Australia, Victoria University (Vic Uni), a public institution in Melbourne, recently adopted a version of the block model after a change in policy toward more open-access admissions resulted in a dramatic decrease in their student retention, success and completion rates. Their student data indicated that the new admissions policy attracted more first-generation students from lower socio-economic levels, who tended to be older, had full-time jobs and/or significant family obligations—which mirrors the students body of most U.S. community colleges.
Block scheduling can improve school-life balance
In their search for possible solutions, university officials believed that the block model would successfully allow students to juggle their academics with their other, out-of-class life obligations and to reduce their exposure to student debt. Vic Uni officials ultimately implemented a new version of the block model that incorporated other promising practices and is more closely tailored to their institution and student demographics.
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Under the Vic Uni block model, classes are held only three days per week and on no more than two consecutive days, which helps students to successfully manage their competing life obligations. Labs and other related activities are also held on the same days. Students have only one teacher per subject/block.
To encourage persistence and timely completion, students who do not do well don’t have to wait an entire year to retake prerequisite courses. They can take the same block again later in the same academic year or often within the same semester.