OUS studies semester switch

Lawmakers are considering the merits of switching the Oregon University System from operating on a quarter-based academic calendar to one that is divided by semesters.

Lawmakers are considering the merits of switching the Oregon University System from operating on a quarter-based academic calendar to one that is divided by semesters.

Senate Bill 442 from the 2009 Oregon Legislative Session directs the Joint Boards of Education to conduct studies relating to the costs and benefits of converting the postsecondary academic calendar from quarters to semesters.

The official report is due Oct. 1. 

Larry Galizio, the OUS director of strategic planning, is working with community colleges, faculty, students and administrators to help the higher education and state boards gather the research and organize a report so the boards can make a decision.

The adjustment would take about three years to complete if the bill passed, converting the current quarters, which last 10 to 11 weeks, to semesters, lasting about 16 weeks.

“We’re trying to find information about whether there is empirical evidence that proves the semester is superior to the quarter system,” Galizio said.

Semesters mean two terms per year instead of four. Less terms can save time and money—”one less term to gear up for,” Galizio said.

Roy Koch, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said, “Semesters mean one less registration, one less fee collection, and fewer books to buy.”

 “There will be costs associated with the transition, and faculty will have to revise the curriculum. There is a lot of work involved,” he said. “But no one is really sure what is going to happen.”

Even if the board decides in favor of semesters, “It will take about three years to transition,” Galizio said.

The National Center for Education Statistics lists 89 percent of public four-year universities as following a semester calendar, whereas all Oregon public universities and community colleges follow the quarter system, making it complicated for students to transfer credits from out of state.

One PSU senior studying Arts and Letters said, “I used to go to school in California. I like semesters. You get more time to process things. I’m very supportive of that idea.”

The idea of converting Oregon public universities to a semester system was considered first by the Oregon State Board of Higher Education in 1972. But, according to the OUS Web site, in the 1980s the board changed its policy on criteria for a common academic calendar. 

The board stated that it would consider an institutional request for a different academic calendar if it were “cost-effective, pedagogically sound, and wouldn’t create transfer problems.”

The OUS Web site lists arguments in favor of the semester system, including:

– Improved quality of instruction by giving students longer exposure to each subject; allowing time for reflection, to absorb new concepts and to learn facts and theories comprehensively.

– Greater opportunities for collaborative research and for in-depth teaching and classroom projects.

– Allowing underprepared students greater time to adjust to the rigors of university academic life. Weaker students have time to realize they have a problem midway through a course and enough time to work and improve their performance.

– Student transfers and scholarly communications improved by bringing Oregon’s post-secondary institutions’ calendars into conformity with majority of other institutions in the U.S.

Also, because most Oregon independent colleges are on a semester calendar, it would be easier for students to transfer to or take courses at those institutions.

Longer terms allow faculty members to have more time for course prep between terms (4-week period) and for scholarship and research.

Administrative costs are reduced by the elimination of one whole registration, financial aid disbursement, examination, and grading cycle, allowing for possible reallocation of existing dollars.

Arguments in favor of the quarter system include:

– For some students, it may be easier to focus on a subject for a 10-week quarter than for a longer term.

– More depth and breadth of majors due to larger variety of courses.

– The later starting date in fall allows some students to keep working in agricultural and tourist jobs during September.

The OUS is encouraging students, faculty, staff and administrators to evaluate the pros and cons of the respective systems and take a short survey on their Web site.

Pros and cons of semesters: http://www.ous.edu/state_board/jointb/sem/res.php
Take the survey: http://www.ous.edu/qapp/sb442surveys/