Technical colleges across Georgia are shifting to semesters from the quarter-system next fall, and academic advisers are starting to counsel students now about the change.
The change to a semester academic calendar is in the very best interests of our students," said Ron Jackson, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia. "We're a world-class educational system for work force development, and a major part of our mission is to provide seamless education where calendars and curriculum align."
At its March meeting, the TCSG board approved the conversion, to take effect July 2011. The semester system is used by more than 80 percent of colleges and universities across the nation. Technical colleges now will align with local colleges and high schools, making it easier for students to transfer between colleges and use dual enrollment high school options.
"Some colleges still look at us like we're a trade school," Jackson said. "If you're still using quarters and not semesters it looks like you're not in the mainstream of the academic world."
A quarter system divides the academic year into four 10-week sessions. A semester system breaks it into two 15-week sessions and a 10-week summer session.
"Advisement right now is critical, and we've known that from the first day we started talking about this," said Linda Barrow, vice president for academic affairs at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood. "The last thing we want to happen is to have students come to college longer because we switched the term dates. We're making a concerted effort to have a strenuous advisement process for all students."
For more than a year, faculty and staff have examined their programs to align curriculum between the two systems. This month, faculty and staff also start a training program to understand the transition and any questions students may have. For example, students qualify for the same amount of financial aid but receive the payments three times per year instead of four.
The technical college system released a website on Monday to answer questions for students, counselors and local business owners. The site - TCSGsemester411.com - parodies the popular PC versus Mac commercials, with two characters named "Quarters" and "Semesters" addressing questions students may ask.
"It's amazing how many students right now are enrolled in high school and Lanier Tech or Lanier Tech and Gainesville State at the same time," Barrow said. "Imagine trying to figure that schedule out."
Barrow, who transitioned from the quarter system to the semester system as a student and then again as a student affairs administrator, said she's confident the change will be smooth.
"As I said early on, I've survived this twice," she said with a laugh. "I know it can be done."
Faculty and staff at North Georgia Technical College see the positives as well.
"Many in our student leadership were enthusiastic when I told them that semesters will give students additional time to master some of the more challenging subjects that they sometimes feel rushed to complete under the quarter system," President Steve Dougherty said.
The advising process will help current students avoid bumps that may cause repeat instruction.
"Our Accounting 1 and Accounting 2 classes will combine into one for the semester system, but we want to make sure that students coming in this fall and taking Accounting 1 get Accounting 2 before the changeover," said Sandra Maughon, public relations and information director. "English 101 and 102 will transition just fine and expand. We want to give students more time to absorb the information."
Full-time under the quarter system is usually three classes, and students will be expected to take four or five classes under the semester system.
"On the one hand, you have to take more classes, which may seem stressful, but you also have more time to learn and study," Maughon said.
When the University System of Georgia switched in 1998, enrollment dropped by about 5,000 students, or 3 percent. Students who enrolled also took fewer courses. Although the numbers later rebounded, the drop caused budget problems and forced the state legislature to give the colleges money.
To avoid budget concerns, the technical colleges will carry over some unused tuition money raised during the 2011 fiscal year, Jackson said.