SOU looking into change from quarters to semesters

At the behest of the state Legislature, Southern Oregon University has undertaken a study of switching from quarters to semesters.

The study, which SOU officials stressed is only preliminary, was required by Senate Bill 442, a 2009 bill that also called for a study on merging SOU with University of Oregon. SOU President Mary Cullinan opposed the merger.

The proposal on semesters called for SOU to join in the research with Portland State University and for Portland Community College to partner with Rogue Community College, said Liz Shelby, chief of staff to Cullinan.

"(Our study) puts forth what would be expected and researched costs and how long it would take. It's very preliminary," Shelby said, noting there are no cost estimates yet. "We couldn't say we are on the road to conversion to semesters. A lot would need to happen before that and the money would have to be allocated by the legislature."

If conversion to semesters moves forward, she added, SOU has been selected as one of the schools that might pilot it.

"There are a lot of steps and by no means can we say we're going to convert."

Students had mixed reactions to the idea. Some prefer the present system, saying it offers greater variety and speed.

"I like that you get a new start three times a year. It gives you more opportunity to get classes done earlier," says freshman Alycia Knox. "A semester is too long. People get bored with the same class."

Her friend, sophomore Maria Liviaudais agreed. "A term is better. You get in more classes and get credits faster — and if there's a professor you don't like, you don't have to stick with him for half a year."

But others say the quarter system is too hectic and demanding and welcomed the proposal for semesters.

"You have more time with semesters, instead of rushing through," said microbiology junior Sarah Holgen. "Now, I feel forced to cram and learn a lot of material and it often doesn't stick. Semesters give you a longer opportunity.

"There would also be fewer texts. I spent almost $800 on books this term. I think credits would transfer easier, too."

Freshman Dexter Daum, a basketball player, sided with semesters, noting, "Terms go so quickly and if you fall behind, you're pretty much done for. We're on the road a lot (in sports) and you have to make stuff up. If you can't, you're disqualified from teams."

But Casey Lay, an junior majoring in international studies, said her goal is to get college done as soon as possible — and that would be harder under a semester system.

"I would probably transfer to a different school," she said.

Literature teacher Terry DeHay, a former Faculty Senate chairwoman, said there's no consensus among professors about a semester system, but it would make it possible "to unfold a topic over a longer period and work with more complex ideas, especially in upper division."

DeHay disagreed that semesters would reduce variety of classes, noting such variety "could be built into the system."

Larry Galizio, strategic planning director for the Oregon University System in Eugene said semesters are being studied because of "greater depth and breadth of learning" in semesters and because of possible efficiencies — starting up new classes twice a year instead of three times — that would save money, but there would be a "substantial upfront cost of millions of dollars."

OUS talked to many states that went to semesters, Galizio said, and "every state said we shouldn't do it to save money," although states also discovered that the greatest benefit was streamlining courses and eliminating obsolete studies.

Semesters would mean lowered costs in personnel and information technology, he said, "but it would take a long time to recoup the savings." All of Oregon's seven public universities and 17 community colleges are now on quarters and, he said, if the switch happened, they would move to semesters together, a process that would take up to four years.

The Legislature would have to fund the switchover but it could also simply mandate it without funding, Galizio noted, but that would represent a significant fiscal hardship for the schools.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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