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$12.6M price tag on semester conversion

The semester conversion will cost Ohio State at least $12.6 million, which is more than $1 million higher than officials’ top-end estimates.

Jay Johnson, assistant provost at the Office of Academic Affairs, said an ad-hoc committee that studied the semester conversion estimated the transition to be a one-time cost between $8.7 and $11.2 million.

“They used two approaches to estimate the costs,” Johnson said. “They estimated the time and expense that would be needed to convert courses and programs, additional advising for students, information technology adjustments and other potential impacts.”

Johnson estimated the breakdown of the funds to be 76 percent for information technology, 13 percent for administration and 11 percent for advising.

Nick Messenger, president of Undergraduate Student Government, said he thinks the cost is a bit high but necessary.

“From my end, that is a little high,” he said. “But when you’re planning something on this scale, I think our university will end up saving in the long end. You have to look at it and remember it’s a one-time cost and it will end up benefitting our students.”

Johnson said the funds for the $12.6 million price tag came from allocated funds, like investment income and earnings overhead. Investment income is money earned through various investments the university has made.

“Students will not pay for the transition costs,” Johnson said. “Student fees and tuition as well as State Share of Instruction, instructional funds from the State of Ohio, are given directly to colleges and departments to support instruction.”

Johnson also pointed out some information technology benefits, which account for most of the cost.

“For instance, a web-based system was created to help students and advisers map the coursework needed to graduate when students have taken both quarter- and semester-based courses,” Johnson said. “This same system will continue to be used as an advising tool for both students and advisers.”

Steven Fink, co-chair of the Semester Conversion Coordinating Committee, told The Lantern the university was not concerned with the financial end of the switch, but how it would benefit students in the long run.

“If we were looking at this financially, we would not be doing the conversion,” Fink said. “We had to be competitive with other schools and convenience students.”

Johnson agreed. He said the upgrades of the information technology will benefit the university beyond the transition efforts.

“The decision to move to semesters was not based on any financial incentive, therefore we are not looking for a financial benefit,” Johnson said.

A spokesman for President E. Gordon Gee did not comment on the issue.

Johnson said in figuring out estimates for OSU’s switch, the committee asked other universities how much their semester conversions cost.

In 1995, the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents voted to allocate $4 million toward its semester conversion project, according to an investigation done by the Oregon University system.

At the same time, Minnesota developed a student information system, similar to OSU’s current Buckeyelink system, which previously had not existed. Between the development of the information system and the semester conversion, Minnesota spent roughly $20 million on these projects, according to the report.

Also in the report, Peter Zetterberg, who led the Minnesota conversion, said there were no appreciable cost savings after the conversion.

Johnson also said OSU has a long history of considering conversion.

“Ohio State seriously considered moving to semesters three times in the past 20 years,” he said. “In the 1990s, the faculty was not supportive of the change to semesters. A calendar change was reviewed in 2000-01 and at that time the university community seemed more in favor, but we were constrained by the IT infrastructure.”

The university has spent the past few years gearing up for the change, he said.

“We spent the last several years converting nearly every major system to PeopleSoft and now have a robust Student Information System that makes the transition to semesters possible from an IT standpoint.”

OSU’s first semester is scheduled for Summer 2012.

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