Colleges spend millions to switch to semesters

Transfers among schools will now be easier.

But the effort, which has taken years and millions of dollars to complete, is not universally liked by students, many of whom feel they will be caught in the middle during the transition.

Preparing for the change, which begins with fall classes in August, has cost the schools more than $26 million in the past four years. The state did not allocate extra money to pay for needed technology upgrades or thousands of hours of staff time to revise curriculum.

In all, 250,000 are presently enrolled in the final academic quarter at the schools making the switch from typical 10-week quarters to a two-semester calendar, which usually run 15 weeks, plus exams. Among them are Wright State University and Sinclair and Clark State community colleges, along with some of the state’s largest universities, Ohio State, Cincinnati and Ohio.

“It’s been, I think, a really tremendous effort, and a tremendous effort during very difficult economic times in the state of Ohio,” said Wright State President David Hopkins. “We came together and agreed it was time for us to do this and do it together.”

The quarters-to-semester change culminates a process that began more than 20 years ago but finally gained traction in 2008 when then-Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut proposed creating common academic calendars for the University System of Ohio.

Having all students on the same academic calendar will allow them to transfer between schools with greater ease and compete for summer and post-graduation jobs and internships at the same time.

“We have promised our students that we’re going to make sure this does not lengthen their time to degree, it does not cost them any more,” Hopkins said.

‘Caught in the middle’

Many current students are feeling inconvenienced by the change, said Wright State senior Nicholas Port, who has served on the student government’s semester transition committee.

“They’re upset that they’re caught in the middle,” she said. “They think it’s just a hassle, and they might not recognize the benefits now.”

Port said he hopes more students take advantage of a guarantee from the universities and colleges that students will not be delayed in earning their degrees or have to spend more money if they develop a plan with their advisers to carry them through the transition.

“If everyone waits until the last two to three weeks, that might be too much for the advisers to handle,” Port said.

Students will also need to adjust to an earlier start to the school year.

“Community colleges tend to have a lot of students who sign up at the last minute,” said Martha Crawmer, Clark State’s dean of arts and sciences and co-chair of its semester conversion committee.

“Our biggest concern, our worry is that students are so accustomed to starting after Labor Day, but now we’re starting Aug. 20,” she said.

Schools and students can expect some savings after the semester transition.

Crawmer said students have been purchasing books, often designed for a semester schedule, three times a year. Many colleges hire adjunct faculty every quarter and will see savings from going through that process one less time a year, she said.

Other functions, such as marketing, will also be conducted fewer times a year, resulting in savings, officials said.

But in preparing for the change, colleges and universities have spent on extra advising, new technology and advertising, along with countless hours by faculty revising every course.

Hopkins said the process has allowed Wright State to revamp all of its programs and courses.

“When we go into the next fall, we’ll feel really good that we’re helping people thrive in the 21st century,” he said.

Sinclair budgeted $1.8 million and expects to spend slightly less than that amount, said Allison Rhea, project director for the office of semester transition. The cost has included creating new videos for online classes.

Classes have been combined for semesters. For example, students who previously studied sensors and vision systems in two courses will cover those topics in one semester.

“Overall they end up taking fewer courses,” Rhea said.

Ohio State incurred the largest expense of any school at an estimated $12.6 million, mostly for new technology. The cost will not be covered by student fees, but instead through other sources, such as investment income, said spokeswoman Shelly Hoffman.

‘A lot of opportunities’

Three Ohio community colleges that made the transition to semesters since 2000 saw a decrease in enrollment the year following the conversion, which has been attributed to students finishing their degrees before the switch.

“We don’t really anticipate any major effect in enrollment,” Crawmer said of Clark State. “We don’t know if we’re going to get that dip, or how big it might it be.”

Terra Community College in Fremont converted to semesters in 2006 to match schedules with schools where its students often transfer, including Bowling Green and Toledo universities, said Mary McCue, director of marketing and auxiliary services.

Terra saw a 26 percent drop in enrollment the year after converting but recovered to gain 16 percent three years later.

McCue said students enjoy having the academic calendar more aligned with the kindergarten to 12th-grade schedule.

“There’s a lot of opportunities I think to serve not only the students, but the students’ families,” she said.

“I can’t think of one reason why anyone would not want to do the conversion,” McCue said.

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