Cal Poly’s Quarter Plus Program Gives Business Freshmen a Head Start

The weak morning light begins creeping through the windows of a still classroom as fresh-faced students begin to fill its seats, anticipating Professor Michael Marlow’s economics lecture. Before long, there’s a buzz of chatter among the freshmen with topics ranging from the mint-and-chip ice cream served in campus dining halls to who overslept for today’s 9 a.m. class.

If the students seem relaxed, that’s likely because they reached a major milestone the day before: tackling the first midterm of their college careers. The funny thing is, it’s barely September, and Cal Poly’s fall quarter won’t begin for more than two weeks.

These students are part of a select group participating in the university’s first ever Quarter Plus program, which enables incoming freshmen to move into campus dorms and take several courses distilled into a three-week term before fall quarter officially begins. This year’s program has admitted 51 business and construction management students, who take eight units of major and elective courses including anthropology and speech communications.

Marlow has adapted this economics course from a 10-week lecture intended for 200 students into an intense hybrid of lectures and online components adapted for just 30 students. While such a structure offers more time for questions and rapport development for instructors, students are also quickly developing the time management skills the hybrid model demands.

“It’s interesting: your weekend is as long as your workweek,” notes Orfalea College of Business freshman Mark McGuire on his task of balancing free time and study requirements. The Walnut Creek native leapt at the chance to join Quarter Plus, knowing this economics class would not only apply to his business education, but could also help him choose between different concentrations within it. His favorite part of the class is the broader perspective the professor provides by exploring how concepts build upon one another for more complex problem solving.

And that’s Marlow’s intent. He sees this early interaction with students through Quarter Plus as an opportunity to condition them for the rigors of higher education, weaving topics about study skills, faculty interaction and broad concept comprehension into his lesson about macroeconomics. In his latest lecture, Marlow covered everything from the class’ success in preparing for the midterm, to GDP and interest rates, to how the information presented in the class would be tested differently in an upper-division course.

But the benefits of this program extend beyond the academic. Away from the classroom, McGuire has become very close with his cohort of Quarter Plus classmates, with whom he’ll share courses in the Orfalea College of Business. They engage in discussion groups every day to further connect academic concepts, and they’ve become a network of friends since all moving into the Cerro Vista apartments on campus.

“Everyone thinks the most important thing is to get those eight units under your belt, but what I’ve noticed is that living together in Cerro Vista together has brought us all closer,” says McGuire. “You get 50 friends under your belt in addition to the units. When everyone shows up for fall quarter in two weeks, we won’t be overwhelmed. We’re already connected.”

For more information on Quarter Plus, visit