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Regents Hear Progress Report on Semester Conversion

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Atlanta — May 13, 1998

The University System of Georgia will join approximately 70 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities in operating on a semester calendar this fall and students will benefit from an overhauled curriculum mandated by the change, the Board of Regents were told today (May 13) at their meeting.

The conversion to the semester calendar will result in classes beginning in late August this year at 33 of the University System’s 34 colleges and universities, nearly a month earlier than on the previous operating calendar. The 34th institution, Georgia Institute of Technology, will adhere to the semester calendar in the Fall of 1999, due to a year of planning time contributed to its hosting of the 1996 Olympic Games.

The Policy Direction on Semester Conversion, passed by the Board of Regents in 1995, has been “one of the key issues dominating campus academic discussions,” according to University System Chancellor Stephen R. Portch. “Conversion to the semester calendar presented multiple benefits to the System, including the assurance that the entire curriculum would have to be put on the table for review. That was indeed a rare opportunity, and I am pleased to say that the campuses have taken full advantage of it.”

At the meeting, the regents heard from Dr. James Muyskens, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Dr. Barry Fullerton, vice chancellor for student affairs with the Board of Regents, both of whom were responsible for shaping the University System’s semester conversion policy. In addition, they heard presentations from the following officials of two institutions which have made excellent progress in preparing for the conversion, Valdosta State University and Darton College: Dr. Hugh Bailey, Valdosta’s president; Dr. Lloyd Benjamin, Valdosta’s vice president of academic affairs; Dr. Peter Sireno, president of Darton; and Mr. Louis Emond, Darton’s director of administrative services; and Ms. Caroline Fielding, Darton’s director of college relations.

The development of a new “system core curriculum” is one of the most comprehensive outcomes of semester conversion, an enhancement that will better facilitate transferability of University System courses among institutions. That process enabled the reevaluation of the number of credits needed to complete a major, eliminating a phenomena referred to as “credit creep” – the process of additional course work being added over time to academic programs to qualify for graduation without eliminating previously required courses. Students at all System institutions now will be required to complete a standard number of required courses for most academic majors, including: nine semester hours in essential skills, four to five semester hours in institutional options, 6 semester hours in humanities and fine arts, 10-11 semester hours in science/math/technology, 12 semester hours in social sciences, and 18 semester hours in courses related to their specific program of study.

The movement to the semester calendar also places the University System in a better position to offer electronic courses on a calendar that is consistent with most of the nation’s college and universities. As electronic access to courses increases usage, that factor will become increasingly relevant, as students endeavor to complete desired programs by enrolling in the courses of various institutions in a given calendar year.

Some of the additional opportunities and challenges associated with the long and complex conversion process include aligning the tuition and fee payment schedule for students; rescheduling the academic advising process; redeveloping master schedules, calendars, and publications such as student catalogs and handbooks; and reshaping institutional internship programs to match the revised schedule. Communications with current and potential students also was a significant responsibility of the conversion process, to ensure that students will report on time for the semester. Campus communications officials are employing a wide variety of communications venues to spread the word about the changes, include use of electronic venues such as the World Wide Web and e-mail.

While campus officials are optimistic about the progress that has been made in preparing for the impending conversion, they also are realistic about the potential downsides. Anticipated short-term risks include “a potential enrollment decline,” according to Dr. Barry Fullerton, “due to some students rushing to complete their course work during the summer before the conversion takes place. That might result in an unusual spike in our summer numbers, and a drop in enrollment in the first Fall semester,” he stated.

“There also is the potential for some glitches,” Fullerton added, “even though we have tried to effectively address and prepare for the various administrative areas that will be impacted by this change. The good news is that we are nearing the culmination of a long and arduous process that is going to have significant payoffs for the University System and its students. We have a lot to celebrate with the advent of the semester calendar, and it’s rapidly approaching.”

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