EMU combines spring, summer semesters

Students no longer being able to claim an official June graduation date and a change in how financial aid is dispersed are just a few of the new changes being rolled out following Eastern Michigan University’s decision to reclassify its separate spring and summer terms into a single summer semester.

University officials have noted that there will continue to be several 7.5 week courses offered in what are being called sub-terms. However, regardless of when the last class ends, students will only be considered for graduation following the 15-week summer semester with an August degree conferral date.

In June 2011, there were 320 undergraduates and 333 graduates who were given conferrals.

“That is a change that students will notice,” said Rhonda Longworth, associate provost and associate vice president for academic programming. “There will no longer be a June graduation date. We will confer degrees in August only. There already isn’t a ceremony for spring or summer, so the ceremonial piece is unchanged, but the degrees will post only in August.

“Now we’re looking at some midterm options with licensing agencies and teacher certifications for some sub-population of students where we can accommodate at least on a one-year basis. We’re going to communicate with students about what options are available to them. We’re looking at some similar solutions for students based on their department and we’ll be sending out targeted emails. That’s part of the communication plan, but right now it is true that all degrees will be dated in August.”

For transfer student Jessica Williams, this change might potentially require her to look at different options when seeking a job.

“I planned to graduate from EMU in June of 2013 but now that I can’t do that, I don’t know how that’ll play into my job search,” Williams said. “I’ve heard that unless you’re going into education, it won’t be that big of a deal. I just hope I’ll be able to find a job without an official dated degree.”

Executive of Media Relations Geoff Larcom and Longworth agreed that when transitioning or implementation takes place, informing the affected individuals is key but thoroughness must take precedence.

“It would be a mistake to characterize this as something that was secretly developed and that it was sprung by surprise,” Larcom said. “Instead you need to ascertain the questions you need to answer in order to be fully accountable once you do roll it out. Secrecy is not the issue here, it’s thoroughness.”

Senior Paul Summer believes students should have been notified last year, but can see why the university would want take time releasing information.

“I’m wondering why we weren’t notified earlier,” he said. “For me it’s not detrimental yet since I wouldn’t be graduating this year, but for others it could be a big thing. People need a heads up on something like this but at the same time I can see why they would be cautious I guess.”

Longworth said a “pretty open discussion” took place.

“I really think this was fully thought out and communicated to everyone,” she said. “The reason it’s just being rolled out to students now is to make sure we grab the attention of the university community so we can share all of the answers and make sure we’re reassuring and supportive and not leaving anyone worried.”

University officials have said the decision was necessary to ensure students are still able to obtain financial aid.

“It was a tremendous concern that if we didn’t change, it would jeopardize the number of students getting financial aid and that’s really important at EMU. We have a substantial amount of student that are Pell eligible and that are eligible for other aid programs,” Longworth said.

The university said the change is being made to ensure EMU’s compliance with federal rules governing financial aid. Federal rules stipulate that students in a semester system with unequal term lengths need 25 hours of academic credit earned each year to maintain federal aid. By moving to a system with equal term lengths, such as three 15-week semesters, students will be able to maintain aid as long as they are meeting the federal Satisfactory Academic Progress regulations.

Registrar Chris Shell said students could be provided with documentation if the graduation date change proves to be troublesome while job searching.

“We will continue to provide letters stating that students completed their degree requirements and that their diplomas will be dated in August,” Shell said. “We do those types of letters now for students who perhaps had a grade change or some sort of an adjustment.”

“We also do that now for students who need provisional teacher certificates,” Longworth added. “We’re working with our teacher education department and the state department to see what kind of documentation we can provide. All of the other universities in the state of Michigan run into the same concerns.”

Longworth said in the state of Michigan it shouldn’t be a problem for students, but for those potentially moving out of state, there is a cause for concern.

“Now for people moving out of the state, they’ll have to consider options that meet those states’ requirements and we’ll work with individual students on those cases,” Longworth said. “It’s just going to depend on what those states require and we’re going to do whatever we can to assist those students in the process. We’re going to try to target and contact those students and figure out how to proceed.”

Longworth is hopeful the solutions will help alleviate the impact on students.

“I’m always hesitant to promise that there’s never an impact on students but we’re working to minimize whatever transitional problems there are with that,” she said.

With summer being essentially the same length as a fall or winter semester, full-time enrollment for undergrads will now be defined as 12 credit hours and half time as six for undergraduate students. Graduate students who want to be considered full-time must take eight credit hours or four to be considered half time.

Last year in order to be full-time, undergraduate students only had to take six credits in the spring and summer semesters or three for half-time consideration. Full-time graduate students took four credits or two for half time.

Sophomore Briana Taylor said the change won’t allow her to take classes during the summer.

“I doubt I’ll be able to afford it, especially since the new Pell Grant rules were announced,” Smith said. “That grant really helped and now I have to take more classes to be eligible for any type of aid? I just can’t afford that.”

Last spring, 9,835 students were registered and accounted for 43,725 credit hours. During the summer, the headcount was 6,328 for 26,183 credits. Shell said some of these numbers are not unique students, but might include individuals registered for both spring and summer or multiple courses.

Longworth said she doesn’t necessarily expect fewer to register as a result of the changes.

“I think the pattern will change in how people register,” she said. “What’s good for students from my perspective is you’ll get your aid money up front and that should give you an opportunity to plan and think things out. In my mind the new system actually benefits students in that regard. How they fit together and how students actually feel about that will work out based on that specific individual’s circumstances and what their eligibility is so I don’t want to speak for all students.”

Also being implemented are changes to the way bills will be sent out and when payments are due. Bills will be sent out approximately by April 15 for all summer classes regardless of the start date and due May 4, the business day before classes start on May 7. Before, bills were sent out prior to each spring and summer sessions depending on which segment students were registered for.

Financial aid will be paid out for all summer registration approximately by April 27, ten days before the start of the summer semester.

Previously, students taking spring and summer term classes received separate payments prior to each term.

Some have speculated the transition is occurring for cost-saving measures but Longworth said it was never a central part of the discussion.

“That is not any part of the motivation from my perspective,” she said. “It really hasn’t even been a part of the conversation. I think if we could find cost savings I would be the first to take advantage of them, but that’s not the motivation of this move and it hasn’t even been a part of the central discussion.”

Faculty and staff will not be affected by the change, Longworth said.

“They’ll still be paid the same amount and on the same schedule,” she said.

EMU faculty member and AAUP President Susan Moeller said the union’s contracts will stay intact.

“Since nothing is changing in our bargaining contract, for the faculty it’s not going to look any different.”

Longworth said she is hopeful the transition is smooth for the campus community but a few bumps in the road are to be expected.

“I don’t believe any change happens without some sort of pro and con, but I believe that the favorable impact of this change outweighs that and we’re going to do anything we can to mitigate that,” she said. “Any change to what you’ve planned as a student can be daunting. I’m concerned on their behalf. I care. I hope we’ve conveyed that on a personal and professional level that we care.”

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