This year, UPS is ending this semester’s classes and starting next semester’s classes a week later than usual. There were mixed reviews to this shift. In regards to starting classes later in the fall, there are less strong opinions and there is more general confusion. Changing the end date has caused more controversy, though. Supporters are glad that graduation is no longer on Mother’s Day, which was a common complaint from students. That said, when graduation was on Mother’s Day, those who weren’t planning on staying for graduation could be home in time to celebrate. Now, Mother’s Day is the weekend before finals, so not only will people not be able to spend the day celebrating their moms, but they will be stressed out and Mother’s Day is likely to feel like another thing to keep track of and prepare for. On top of that, many seniors leases now end the day after graduation, or close to that, turning graduation into a stressful time rather than a celebratory time. People seem to be unhappy regarding both end dates, which begs the question, when are the optimal start and end dates for the University of Puget Sound school year?
To answer that question, we must attempt to answer why the shift happened in the first place. Maybe the shift was simply so graduation doesn’t fall on Mother’s Day. Another possibility is that spring semester at UPS is always a week longer than fall semester, so the reasoning for moving graduation later was to maintain this, however one would think that evening out the semesters would be beneficial because Professors wouldn’t have to change around class schedules that are taught both semesters. I’m proposing that the optimal choice for UPS would be to make the semesters even lengths, and move from there. Based on this, we can frame this as an optimization problem with a time constraint. Logically speaking, having semesters of equal length would be more optimal because that way the same classes in different semesters would really be the same classes; the same amount of material would be covered in the same amount of time making the classes as identical as possible.
Arguably, the most important part of determining the timing of fall semester is seeing when the end of the semester will fall. Typically fall semester is 14 weeks long and spring semester is 15 weeks long. If we make the assumption that both semesters are 14 weeks long, then we can see when the end of the semester will be and determine the start time off of that. There are two main arguments regarding the start of fall semester. The first being that a longer summer is preferred, just so students have more time off. The second being that with starting earlier comes the possibility of a longer winter break and longer days. Personally, I think starting the semester earlier would be most beneficial. With the longer days, people would be more productive because increased exposure to sunlight increases productivity. An earlier start time has the possibility of making winter break extra long, but if we add an extra week to the fall semester, then winter break is likely to fall around the same time it typically does.
Now, onto spring semester. Spring semester always starts the Tuesday following Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Since we have determined that we want fall and spring semester to be of equal length, and we set fall semester to be 14 weeks, then we can say that spring semester is also 14 weeks long. By looking at the calendar, we can see that would mean graduation back on Mother’s Day, getting us back exactly where we started. But, unfortunately, I do believe that is actually the optimal date for graduation. Yes, Mother’s Day will be less about the mom’s specifically, but imagine your Mother’s Day present being getting to see your child graduate from college!
Turning this into an actual optimization problem would be difficult as we would have to assign seemingly arbitrary numerical values to the different factors that affect the optimization of the UPS school year, but that is not to say it is not possible.