Semesters or quarters? The effect of the academic calendar on postsecondary student outcomes

Valerie Bostwick, Stefanie Fischer, Matthew Lang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


There exists a long-standing debate in higher education on which academic calendar is optimal. Using panel data on the near universe of four-year nonprofit institutions and leveraging quasi-experimental variation in calendars across institutions and years, we show that switching from quarters to semesters negatively impacts on-time graduation rates. Event study analyses show that the negative effects persist beyond the transition. Using transcript data, we replicate this analysis at the student level and investigate possible mechanisms. Shifting to a semester: (i) lowers first-year grades, (ii) decreases the probability of enrolling in a full course load, and (iii) delays the timing of major choice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-80
Number of pages41
JournalAmerican Economic Journal: Economic Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022

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