Semester conversion at state schools means earlier start to year

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Financial aid counselor Holly Jacobson, left, shows Duaa Hussein the status of her aid package during a freshman orientation gathering at The Ohio State University at Marion campus Tuesday. Hussein (second from left), from Yemen, will study medical laboratory science and hopes to become a doctor. Her friend Fay Dawi (center) and cousin Abdella Dawi accompanied Hussein from Columbus for orientation. / James Miller/The Marion Star

Written by Kurt Moore
The Marion Star
Wednesday, July 25, 2012

MARION -- It's not too early to register for college classes in Marion.

Prospective students can register right up until the first day of class at both Marion Technical College and The Ohio State University at Marion. College officials are just hoping students remember that's about a month earlier this year.

The first day of fall semester is Aug. 22 at OSU-Marion and Aug. 27 at MTC. Classes traditionally started in the second half of September in previous years.

The change is part of the conversion to semesters pushed by the Ohio Board of Regents. The idea is to make it easier for students to transfer among public colleges, including students who may go to Marion Technical College for two years then continue studies elsewhere.

The move makes predicting the number of students who will enroll more of a guessing game than usual.

"We don't have any exact comparison," said Joel Liles, MTC's dean of enrollment services.

He said the college is down in enrollment, but added that it could still see a "last minute surge."

"We enrolled well over 1,000 students in the last few weeks last year," Liles said.

He said other colleges that have converted to semesters have experienced a temporary drop in numbers. MTC is budgeting conservatively in anticipation of a drop in enrollment.

Matt Moreau, admission and financial aid director at OSU-Marion, said new admissions are up 10 percent compared to fall quarter in 2011. He would not discuss the number citing uncertainty because of variables such as starting earlier than in the past.

Moreau and Liles expect confusion when students get their tuition bills. Moreau said there's a "short-term sticker shock" because the bill may be higher.

The reason is tuition is for a longer term, a semester compared to a quarter. The overall cost for the year is close to the same as it has been, officials said.

Students also will likely take more courses to be considered full time. Liles said courses generally offer fewer credit hours under semesters, which means the student who used to take three courses to reach full-time status may have to take five now.

He expects that to have an impact on older adults who go back to school.

"They are going to have to manage scheduling classes into that schedule," he said. "They are fearful."

Liles said a positive is that courses likely will be slower paced under semesters. He said that could be a benefit because it would give students more time to adjust to a new class.

The change is raising some questions and concerns among students. OSU-Marion student Anastasia Sipes wants to know how it will affect financial aid deadlines. Aaron Green is concerned about the length of classes.

"My biggest concern is I would get bored taking the class so much longer," he said, adding that it's not a huge concern, but something he's thought about.

Marion Harding High School graduate TeNiyah Mason attended an orientation at OSU-Marion on Tuesday. She said she put off choosing a college, but was able to get into OSU-Marion even though she registered just two weeks ago.

Her mom, Stacy Mason, complimented the college staff for helping them register and fill out forms seeking financial aid.

That willingness to ask questions is what college officials hope to see.

"Plan ahead as much as possible," Liles said. "Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most just make assumptions."

He suggested students talk to counselors who can help plan their first few semesters and even their first few years.

"That often helps a student if they see a plan," he said.

Reporter Kurt Moore: 740-375-5151, or on Twitter @StarKurtMoore