Regents Set Semester Switch

Georgia Tech was given an extra year to implement the change
because of delays caused by the 1996 Olympic Games

By Hoyt Coffee
The University System Board of Regents gave Georgia's public colleges and universities until fall 1998 to convert from quarters to semesters, bringing them in line with most other American higher- education institutions.

But in the 15-1 vote on Dec. 13, they gave Georgia Tech an extra year to implement the change because preparing for the '96 Olympic Games will interfere with the process of redesigning curriculum.

"We accept the Regents' decision as a challenge to use the semester conversion to improve our curriculum," Institute President Wayne Clough said. "The semester system makes it easier to incorporate team projects and include written and oral reports that improve communication skills.

"The Regents have allowed us an extra year to implement the conversion, and we want to use this for the betterment of our academic offerings."

In order to meet the Regents' deadline, Institute faculty will begin this summer converting curriculum to an August-to-May calendar, said Michael E. Thomas, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. Since course catalogs must be ready by 1998, Tech faculty and committees in each school must have curriculum plans completed by fall 1997.

Thomas said an existing assessment program will garner alumni input for the new curriculum.

A task force created in February 1995 to study the conversion reported to the Regents in November that it would cost about $5.2 million to make the switch at all 36 public colleges and universities, most of which will be spent redesigning courses. Once implemented, the task force said the semester system should cost no more to operate than the current quarter system if savings are realized through "judicious pruning, bold innovation and a reduction in the credits required for graduation."

Operating costs also should be reduced by having two registration periods, commencements and exam periods each year instead of three.

Chancellor Stephen Portch, using the conversion also as a means to update and streamline curriculum and introduce innovations such as televised classes, insisted on a no-cost approach to the change.

"We also need to focus on how to best use the new Olympic facilities legacy of high-speed networks and wired residence halls in building a leading-edge learning environment," said Clough, CE '64, MS CE '65.

For faculty system-wide, the conversion generally will mean more time for advising students and keeping up with academic specialties. Students will have more classroom time and will take more classes simultaneously.

The most difficult adjustment at Tech will be to remodel the popular Co-operative Division, which many faculty and alumni feared early on may suffer under a semester system. Director Thomas M. Akins, however, is confident that drawbacks for the division can be overcome.

"What matters to employers is whether you can continue to have a pipeline of students to them," Akins said, adding that co-op students may find a condensed summer session unattractive or courses difficult to schedule, requiring development of additional programs to keep the pipeline flowing.

"Georgia Tech has the best voluntary co-op program in the country now, and we fully intend to be able to say the same thing after the semester conversion," Clough said. "We will look to those of the Tech community who believe, as I do, that the co-op experience is an essential part of our special education to help us develop special scholarship funds to assist our co-ops in their senior year.

"These funds will provide an incentive that will help keep co-op enrollments up, and offset the likelihood that co-op earnings on the semester system will not be as great as on the quarter system."

Akins said he is planning to examine large co-operative programs at semester-based schools such as Purdue and N.C. State in the search for solutions. He's also relying on support from administrators and alumni.

"I think with careful planning and the incentives that Dr. Clough is working on to keep students interested in co-oping--and with the understanding of some of our alumni and employers out there-we'll do fine."

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