While summer school used to be primarily targeted to remedial work, these days more and more students are finding the summer months an ideal time to get ahead with studies.
Donald Howie, director of summer school at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, said summer school gets more popular each year. Enrollment this year at summer school through Ole Miss is up 4% over a year ago. An estimated 6,000 to 7,000 students are taking classes.
“Many students now view summer school as a regular part of their education program,” Howie said. “When I was going through college many years ago, the only students who went to summer school were those who failed courses during the regular academic year. Summer school was very small. Now it is considered part of the program. To complete their degree, students anticipate taking classes one or two summers.”
Another factor behind the increasing popularity of summer school, Howie said, is that the university is offering a greater variety of courses.
“In every school and every department, there are courses offered in the summer so students — no matter what their major — can find courses in the summer that will help them achieve their academic objectives,” Howie said. “There are simply a lot of good choices.”
Ole Miss has four summer terms. There is a short term in May, a session in June, a session in July and a full summer term that runs through June and July.
There are advantages to the university for beefing up summer offerings.
“The University of Mississippi has grown dramatically in the past decade, but our physical facilities are limited,” Howie said. “So summer school allows the university to offer courses we could not add into the regular academic year, and have enough room. So it meets the very real need to make full use of facilities all year long instead of just being used during the academic year and idle the rest of the year. It is good facility management for the university.”
Summer school is often a good fit for non-traditional students. Howie said it allows people with other commitments to come on campus during the summer and pursue academic goals in a way they wouldn’t be able to during the nine months of the regular session.
Tim Angle, assistant provost for summer school and outreach at Ole Miss, said a large number of the summer school students are professionals such as teachers who are attending classes for re-certification or to obtain an advanced degree. There are 20 week-long teacher workshops at the Oxford, DeSoto and Tupelo campuses of Ole Miss.
Summer school is also popular with students who want to graduate early. And there are also a number of high school students who come each summer session to earn college credits before their senior year of high school.
“These are people who meet early admission standards,” Angle said. “They can get up to six hours per semester. It gives them a taste of college, and provides challenges for brighter students. You must have a 3.2 GPA or 25 on the ACT to qualify for that program.”
The University of Southern Mississippi is also seeing increased demand for summer school.
“At Southern Miss, summer school enrollment has always been healthy,” said Dr. Joe Paul, vice president for student affairs. “This year, it is again. It is just over 7,000. That is a lot of students. It is certainly a non-traditional mix. It is everything from new students wanting to get one or two courses under their belt before the rush of fall, to ongoing traditional students who want to stay caught up on their degree plan by taking one or two courses in the summer. We certainly have a number of returning teachers seeking higher certifications or re-certifications. And we have lot of part-time graduate students in general who see the summer as an opportunity to take some more course work.”
Years ago the campus in Hattiesburg was busy with military training being done through Camp Shelby. Campus facilities were rented for officer training programs. While the military training hasn’t been done on campus for a number of years, Hattiesburg continues to see a significant economic impact from training being conducted at Camp Shelby south of town.
“Camp Shelby is hopping right now,” Paul said. “It has been designated as a training site for deployment. We are seeing the effects of that in Hattiesburg, more so than at Southern Miss.”
Paul said the shorter, more intensive courses offered in summer are particularly good in disciplines like foreign languages and mathematics. If a student is having a problem with a math class, it may be easier to focus on just that one subject for a month rather than taking it along with four or five other classes over the 17-week regular semester.
“The summer term is just 10 weeks, and some of the classes are even more intensive than that,” Paul said. “There are some five-week courses, and some one-week seminars in graduate education. So that is good for folks like school teachers who want some of their summer off, but want some more academic credit as well. Even though summer school is more fast paced, it is also more flexible.”
But summer school isn’t for slackers. The courses aren’t easy credits. Paul said the same material has to be covered in a shorter period of time, which can make summer school very intense.
“To be successful in summer school, you have to stay on top of it and do some work everyday,” Paul said.
In addition to academic courses, Southern Miss and other campuses in the state host a large variety of summer camps for youths, teenagers and adults in areas such as music and dance. With all of that going on, the campus is a hub of activity.
Mississippi State University (MSU) in Starkville also hosts many hundreds of K-12 students on campus during the summer who are enrolled in a variety of short courses/camps, both academic enrichment oriented and athletics/band/cheerleading oriented. You can see a list at http://www.summercamps.msstate.edu/.
Summer camps may be many young people’s first glimpse of campus life. And the experience can make a big impression on developing goals for attending college after they graduate from high school. MSU offers two five-week summer terms and one 10-week term that runs simultaneously with the two five-week terms. Students can take courses during one or both five-week terms, during the 10-week term or in any combination.
Joe Farris, director of university relations for MSU, said there are also a few intensive three-week courses that are offered between the spring semester and the start of summer school or between summer school and the fall semester.
“Enrollment for the summer term as a whole is about 50% of the fall semester enrollment,” Farris said. “This summer, for instance, we have about 8,100 students enrolled for one or more terms (that could grow some as students may still register for the second five-week term) compared with a little over 16,000 in the fall.
“The proportion of graduate students does increase during the summer, largely due to the enrollment of teachers and other school personnel working on graduate degrees in the College of Education. During the summer, graduate students account for about one-third of total enrollment, versus just over 20% during the fall-spring semesters.”
Farris said these days independent study and/or distance learning courses may be a more appealing alternative to business people or other working adults than summer school. Some business courses for credit are among the offerings this summer through the Division of Continuing Education. A listing is available at http://www.distance.msstate.edu/courses/. Independent study courses can be taken any time, on your own schedule.
Distance or virtual learning is also big in the community college system. Dr. Wayne Stonecypher, executive director of the State Board for Community and Junior College, says virtual enrollment continues to grow.
“We are pushing up around 12,000 for the summer online campuses,” Stonecypher said. “I haven’t seen the actual enrollment numbers from regular summer school at our colleges yet. But I think we are going to see an increase.”
Stonecypher said they joke that their campuses look like “Junior Ole Miss” in the summer because there are so many students on campus who have just graduated from high school.
“We pick up a ton of students graduating from high school, wanting to pick up six to 12 hours before they go to the university,” Stonecypher said. “In the fall we have more of an influx of older, non-traditional students.”
The non-traditional students don’t take as many summer classes, perhaps because of issues such as family vacations. Vo-tech programs are also less popular in the summer.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.