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Ditching Fall Semester

September 20, 2010

The University of Florida is considering a proposal that would give incoming students the option of taking classes during the spring and summer terms only, bypassing the fall semester, to ease the strain on its crowded facilities. Though most on campus seem to be in favor of providing an opportunity for nontraditional scheduling, a state law must be altered for the university to move ahead with the plan.

Joseph Glover, the university’s provost, pitched the idea at a Florida Board of Governors meeting last week; he described it as a productive, efficient way to admit more students to a university for which there is high demand.

“U.F. is a large institution and, basically, in the fall semester the Gainesville campus is full to capacity,” Glover said. “We do have extra capacity in spring, after winter graduation, and lots of capacity in the summer. So the thought came to us, what’s so sacred about fall-spring? What if we offered our students the ability to be spring-summer? We see more and more students who are opting for innovative programs. I think there would be a market for students who would be interested in doing this for a variety of reasons.”

The idea is still in its nascent stages, but Glover imagines that the university would give applicants the option of stating their preference for fall-spring only, spring-summer only, or either up front. Students in spring-summer format would not be blocked from taking fall classes altogether, just courses in residence. In other words, students on this alternative schedule could do things like study abroad or enroll in distance education courses. This limitation would apply for the entire time these students spend at the university — and thus differs significantly from the way many colleges admit some first-year students for the spring semester, but those students are from then on enrolled on a standard schedule.

This year, the university has nearly 6,400 first-time freshmen, and Glover notes that the incoming class size has remained relatively static for the past three years. If the spring-summer option is offered, he said the university would expand its incoming class by about 250 students who would take advantage of it, while maintaining the average 6,400 students in the traditional fall-spring model. Glover added, however, that the university is considering yet another option: limiting the spring-summer scheduling option to incoming transfer students only.

In either case, student leaders on campus seem to appreciate the administration’s move to give them more control over their own scheduling.

“I think it's a great initiative to maintain enrollment from our students in these semesters where there seems to be a drop,” wrote Virlany Taboada, senior and treasurer of the Student Government, in an e-mail. “I've been a student that has gone to school fall, spring, and summer for my four years here and I can definitely say that taking classes in the summer has helped not only my [grade point average] but it's a more relaxed environment that I think has contributed to my academic success. My hope would be that by having students not take classes in the fall we'll see an increase in grade point average and perhaps a decrease in stress and anxiety levels.”

Faculty leaders are also open to the idea.

“It’s an innovative idea,” said Mary Ann Ferguson, chair of the Faculty Senate and professor in the university’s College of Journalism and Communications. “I’m glad to see the university is trying to better utilize our resources. I have some concerns about how that it’ll work with programs where students take an intro class in the fall and a more advanced class in the spring. Otherwise, I don’t see any serious downsides. I’m sure we’ll work through those issues.”

As most university faculty members are nine-month employees, some would have to be encouraged to teach summer classes to help boost offerings for these students. Still, they would be paid on a supplemental contract for their extra work.

“I suppose if faculty felt pressure to teach during the summer, there would be issues,” Ferguson said. “But I haven’t heard any strong resistance. We’re always able to find those willing to teach during the summer.”

In order for the university to make this offer, however, it will have to ask the state legislature to change a statute. Current state law bars public institutions from requiring students who bring in at least nine credits of college credit upon entry — such as those from Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes — to attend at least one summer term. At the University of Florida, “virtually all” freshmen bring at least nine credits with them. Without revoking this exemption, the university, technically, would not be able to require students who voluntarily select the spring-summer enrollment option to take summer courses.

“We need to speed student progress toward graduation and maximize use of our facilities,” said Glover, who noted that officials from other state institutions at the board meeting noted their support for institutional control over their own summer term policies. “This change would enable us to create this program.”

Kelly Layman, board spokeswoman, confirmed the board’s support of this push for legislative change. She said this, in addition to a rewording of board policy, would ensure that Florida students that have Bright Futures Scholarships — the state’s lottery-funded merit-based scholarship — would still receive funds if they took advantage of the spring-summer scheduling. Currently, those receiving these scholarships are not eligible for funds if they enroll in summer courses.

“We need higher baccalaureate attainment in Florida,” Layman said. “If this helps increase that, then the Board of Governors is for it.”

 

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