May 13, 2022 | NEWS | By Henry Hodde
Colorado College, under a new administration, is in the midst of a study on all facets of the institution. Some students have said they are particularly interested in potential changes to the school’s unique Block Plan.
That plan, three-and-a-half-weeks of intensive learning in which students take just one class at a time, isn’t just an academic calendar. It’s a strong part of the school’s identity.
But what is its future?
This study is part of a campus-wide evaluation called Project 2024 that operates under the guiding question, “how can we do what we do better?” The initiative, launched this past September, began by conversing with all of the CC community, including students, professors, board members, and alumni.
Susan Ashley leads the Steering Committee, a group of students, faculty, and staff that head up the three-year project.
“The agenda here is not to get rid of the Block Plan,” said Ashley. “It’s to reinforce it.”
However, the committee is still asking hard questions about the Block Plan, and getting rid of it is not off the table. In an interview with The Catalyst, Ashley acknowledged that the Block Plan was “open for elimination,” but that there wasn’t “a lot of support for that” among committees.
And while that means the Block Plan is likely to stay in some form, it doesn’t mean it will look like it always has.
“We heard some interest in hybrid models which would combine single block courses with a selection of courses,” Ashley said. “So, part semester, part hybrid courses, part single courses.”
Manya Whitaker, executive vice president of the college, backed that up in a statement.
“In its original form, the Block Plan was much more flexible than its current iteration and many faculty would like to regain that flexibility,” she said. “This might look like classes being held in the afternoon, linked blocks, or alternative schedules that better allow for practicum and internship experiences.”
For John Horner, a professor in the psychology department, the Block Plan in its current iteration has gone stale. “We are moving toward a lower and lower energy state,” Horner said. “It could be a whole lot more.”
In conversations with dozens of students over the past week, plenty expressed anxiety over the future of the Block Plan, particularly the possibility that it could go away.
One even said that should the college eliminate the Block Plan, he’d start shopping for a new school. “I’d probably transfer,” said Brian Whitely ’24 from California.
Ayden Cherry ’24, a Brooklyn native, said the Block Plan is what sets CC apart: “Without the Block Plan it just becomes another liberal arts college, like Bowdoin, Middlebury, or Bates.”
The Block Plan is “what makes CC so special,” said Esther Cornish ’24 from Denver, who urged the committee to consider that a lot of students “love CC” because of the it.
So, if it doesn’t go away, how different might it look?
One experience that could offer insight into the feasibility of a restructured Block Plan is the psychology department’s “Build Your Own Block” program. According to Horner, the initiative was launched in 2010, and allows students to take two courses simultaneously. Classes alternate, meeting every other day over a seven-and-a-half-week period.
The program is “much easier to teach on,” Horner said. Professors are only required to teach class every other day, and this allows for more time to prepare lessons for students.
Student responses to the program have been mixed, however, with those interviewed describing their experience in a variety of ways. Some said they felt that the two-block approach helped them to retain the information, citing that as a benefit.
Others spoke about what they described as a lack of communication between professors, heavy workloads, and poorly placed exams.
“The midterm exam for one of them was right before Block Break, you know, very standard,” said Luke Bleckman ’24. “And then the other one was the day we got back from Block Break, so it necessitated studying over the course of your Block Break.”
As for how exactly Project 2024 might change the Block Plan, students and faculty should know when CC releases an all-community announcement before the end of the academic year.
The report should detail the Steering Committee’s intentions for the second year of the project, as well as a summation of the observations from this initial stage.
Until that day comes, the CC community continues to wait with bated breath.