Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Summer enrollment

A quick comment on summer school, which has been in the news of late due to the screw up in Political Science and the ballyhooed rise in enrollment of 100 students, about 1%.

This will come as news to few reading this, but bears repeating: summer enrollment is dictated more by the supply of courses than by student demand. For the details, and a suggestion for how to improve things, read on.

My department, for example, could offer twice as many sections of Spanish and fill them all, if we had enough funding to offer the sections in the first place. Hence the following comment by the Chancellor, assuming she was accurately summarized in the DE, is misleading.
Chancellor Rita Cheng said she directly worked with all deans to make sure each college had adequate salary dollars for any summer class that could be filled.
The summer budget often falls prey to budget cuts that are counterproductive. That is, even if a class would enroll enough students to more than cover the salary of the instructor, it often cannot be offered. This is because when the budget is tight, the summer budget is one of the things than can be cut without laying people off, as summer teaching is almost always an "extra" for faculty.  The summer budget gets cut, in other words, because it can be cut, not because it should be. Similarly, when summer enrollment goes up this is far more likely due to more courses being offered (or at least more popular courses being offered) than it is to any improved recruitment & retention efforts.

Given that the physical infrastructure on campus is here year round, it's a shame for it to be underutilized in the summer: we are air conditioning Lawson whether there are 100 students in it or 1000. And it takes many of our students far too long to graduate; as most of them aren't off vacationing in the Bahamas over the summer, a wider range of summer offerings might help improve time to graduation and graduation rates. How to fix this?

Perhaps it ought to be possible for faculty to teach summer courses as part of their regular loads, rather than as an extra assignment for extra pay. Not many faculty would jump at this prospect, as most of us jealously guard our summer time (for research, in many cases). And we are used to viewing summer teaching as something of a perk.  Certainly no faculty member should be required or pressured to teach year round. But for some people this may be desirable, at least on occasion.  Rather than attempting to squeeze most of my research into the summer, for example, I can imagine having more time for research during the fall semester (when I normally teach three classes) if one of those classes were offered in the summer instead. And it might be possible to offer a class in the summer that would enroll better, better serve my program, or both, than would that third class in the fall. For example, we currently offer no summer classes whatsoever in my program (Classics).

This might, then, be an occasion when I'd be in favor of giving administrators more "flexibility". But I can imagine objections from faculty worried that this could be the first step toward requiring us to teach more, or at least over a longer time period, for no more pay. What do you think?


  1. If not faculty, then GAs. I know several people who would jump at the chance for summer funding -- especially if it was accompanied by an increase in graduate course offerings. You want people to finish on time? Make sure the courses they need are being offered! It's easier for undergrads but the graduate level pickings in summer are very, very lean. Last year, I was lucky enough to be teaching a 200-level summer session course in Sociology. I actually had two philosophy graduate students enrolled because they needed hours for financial aid reasons and there weren't classes being offered in philosophy. I've taken classes through Communications and MCMA to fill hours in the summer. There hasn't been a graduate course offered in summer in sociology since I started here.

  2. There is something odd about summer funding. I remember reading this but might have it wrong, so maybe someone who knows more can follow up. State funds are based only on Fall and Spring enrolment numbers. So, while we get tuition money from Summer enrolment, we don't get state matching funds. At least I think this is what I remember reading.

  3. Summer courses should NOT be taught as part of a regular load rather than "an extra assignment for extra pay." When my mother was still alive in the UK, I and my family depended on summer school to pay for the very expensive air fares to a now very expensive European destination. Also, I enjoyed teaching summer school since the courses led to a book being published. Now that my mother is gone, we don't travel to England but you also have to look at the poor pay faculty get due to compression and now furloughs. For many of us, summer school is essential to make ends meet and you should not give administrators any more oppressive ideas than they already have. If it is a choice between research and basic home economics, the latter will win - as long as summer school is still around. If we were all payed according to the peer rate that would be another question. But now it looks like that extra money many of us depend on is now vanishing in favor of online courses which I personally regard is demeaning to higher education teaching. Summer school is the equivalent to overtime working in a factory and essential in a world of inflation and increasing costs of food and gas. So please don't think of taking the possibility of summer school (now very limited) away from those of us who need to do it for financial reasons.

  4. My Chair told me that there is no more money for offering summer courses and therefore, the class cannot be offered. I don’t know who is telling the truth.
    If I believe what Cheng is saying, we should be able to offer many more courses next summer. If I am reading Cheng’s comments correctly, as long as classes meet minimum enrollment requirement, Cheng will find money to offer them. This sounds great!

  5. To Tony's comment: I suppose don't foresee a situation where there would be enough faculty volunteering to teach in the summer to deprive faculty lucky (and flexible) enough to win summer contracts of what I perhaps misleadingly called a "perk". But yes, it is possible that there could be unintended consequences of such a change. I suppose my bottom line is that summer school ought to be staffed in a way that best meets our students' academic needs, rather than one designed to get some faculty extra pay (for extra work). If faculty are paid too little, let's bargain for better salaries.

    On the other hand, we shouldn't just offer the cheapest possible classes, either.

    Which brings me to Kristi's comment, which I can verify from my own department, and my top-secret experience as a semester as interim chair (which will confirm the Worst Suspicions of some of you). We mainly offer Spanish taught by our own MA students, but fail to offer any graduate courses for those students to take. Who knows--perhaps some Spanish MA students signed up for Kristi's sociology course just to get random credit hours.

    The problem here is that our department tries the best it can to meet the huge demand for elementary Spanish by hiring GAs, and almost only GAs, to teach elementary Spanish, and doesn't routinely hire the faculty member who would be needed to teach a grad course to those GAs. Here's a case where it seems to me that a department is putting bean counting ahead of education (no doubt with help from administrative pressure), chasing cheap enrollment even when it results in MA students being treated largely as cheap labor rather than as genuine students offered real classes to take. I tried to change this when I was interim chair, but when funding got tight after my one semester stint, the course aimed at our GAs was cut.

    Thus I hit the Golden Mean, as always: we should be flexible enough to make smart use of summer school to meet our students' needs, rather than primarily aiming to meet faculty needs. But we shouldn't go cheap and just offer the largest classes with the least expensive instructors possible when this undermines our educational goals.

  6. Good points, Dave. I should also mention that in recent years two of my summer classes have been canceled despite the fact that enrollments are always full and Academic Advisers keep contacting me as to whether I will offer a summer class. It is a 300 level core curriculum open to junior and senior students of any major. So it is a class uniting two types of needs: a faculty member on compressed salary and students needing this type of class to complete their requirements and graduate. You also know that there is no way SIUC will ever raise faculty salaries to parallel other peer institutions especially with the new administration.

  7. One of my pitches for a wise use of online courses that can be taught from afar in the summer: we waste the four months (as Dave points out), some faculty want/have to leave but those of us on research teaching loads (I'm 2-2) find it difficult to teach courses beyond our regular rotation. I'd like to stretch myself and learn/tech new fields, like military history (I'm prepping it this summer). The topic is vital, neglected, and would attract many students on campus and off. In fact, it is possible to teach it with Panopto, first as an on campus course and then later in the day (or week) to another section. Faculty could get paid 2X for same course! Obviously, military history is a special case but we all know what would attract students beyond the Gen Ed basics.

    At the same time, many of our students "get rid of" their Core courses in the summer -- back home. That's why online courses for off-campus students are big in the summer (while during the school year a majority of the online courses are taken by on-campus students).

    Summer is a great time to experiment with teaching. No one has to teach summer (I have NEVER in 16 years) but I plan on stretching myself now that I'm at mid-career and need the challenge (and, frankly, the money).


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