St. Thomas snow

The University of St. Thomas is closed from December 23 through January 2 for the Christmas and New Year holidays.  Enjoy your holiday season, and we’ll be back with new Opus Magnum blog content on January 3, 2011!

In the meantime, we thought you might find it interesting to learn why college students get such long winter vacations, thanks to Slate’s Explainer.

How’d these kids get so lucky?

They can thank the stagflation and energy crisis of the Carter era, mostly. American colleges originally based their academic calendars around the agricultural cycle, commencing the semester after the harvest—much later than the August start that’s typical today. They also once hewed to a standard two-week break around Christmas, with exams scheduled for after the holiday. But in the 1970s, when many academic institutions found themselves in dire fiscal straits (one national task force predicted that more than one-quarter might be forced to close their doors), administrators realized that if they altered the calendar, they could reduce spending. By starting the term during late summer and by shutting their doors for a month or more over the winter holidays, they saved significantly on heating costs at a time when oil prices where cripplingly high. [Here at UST, it was noted in the Bulletin that by "being closed for 10 consecutive days, we also should be able to realize some cost savings by turning down the thermostats in most of our buildings."] Serendipitously, this cost-cutting measure coincided with a broader movement inside academia toward experimental pedagogy, like study abroad, mini-classes, and internship programs that could be completed over a slightly longer break.

Read the full explanation on Slate.