Many public colleges and universities were overrun this year by larger-than-ever enrollments driven up by economics and demographics, and early signs suggest that this summer will approach or pass record highs.
Across the country, at flagship universities, state colleges and community colleges, administrators are reporting that their summer session enrollments are up, as the same pressures that put students in the classroom September through May keep them in their seats all summer.
“Having a poor job market is something we correlate positively with,” said Richard Russo, director of summer sessions at the University of California at Berkeley. High unemployment drives nontraditional students to enroll in college at all times of the year, but a tough economy makes it more difficult for traditional-age students to find jobs and internships, or gives them greater awareness of the need to complete a degree as quickly and inexpensively as possible. “There’s more pressure; students are being pushed into the summer.”
There’s no one reason why students are choosing to spend their summers in class, said Curt Eley, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Texas at Dallas. “We can’t say that any one factor is leading to our summer growth -- there’s just so much going into it, so many things that are increasing the numbers at the margins.”
Among the factors: the competitiveness of the summer job and internship markets, a rise in the number of students who attend other institutions but are looking to save money by taking classes at home this summer, and the implementation of year-round Pell Grants .
At UT-Dallas, Eley said, summer enrollment is up 5.3 percent from last year at this time, to 6,751 students. “Our strategic plan is for growth throughout the year and that includes the summer,” he said. “We are really looking actively to make sure that we have a value proposition that appeals to the students in our market and to increasing our enrollment in any way we can.”
When the first set of summer classes started Monday at Berkeley, more than 13,800 had already enrolled in the university’s summer offerings, a thousand more than had registered by the first day of class last summer. Russo said that he had expected to see more summer students in part because of intensified efforts to attract them. “We’ve introduced more online classes and are building partnerships to bring international students here in far greater numbers than we can during the rest of the year,” he said. “That’s where some of our growth is coming from.”
Growth in Berkeley’s summer enrollment is also coming from Berkeley’s own students. The University of California System introduced two sets of fee hikes that will make this fall’s tuition 32 percent more than last fall’s, but rather than the full increase, only the 15 percent increase introduced with the spring semester will apply this summer, Russo said. “We know we have more Berkeley students taking more credits than in the past because they see that here’s a way to save a little money and get some of your courses out of the way,” he said. “We made a bet that if we don’t increase the tuition for the summer we may lose some revenues that way, but we’ll make up for it in volume.”
Before this year, Berkeley provided institutional aid to Pell-eligible students who wanted to take summer classes. Because of the changes in Pell regulations, the aid that would have gone to those students will be given to low- and middle-income students who don’t qualify for Pell. “Some students who might’ve felt like they couldn’t afford the summer session may be able to now,” he said. It’s too early, though, for him to have statistics on how the aid picture has changed summer enrollment.
The enrollment picture for summer sessions at the University of California at Los Angeles is roughly flat. About 14,000 students have registered so far, said Kathleen Micham, associate director of summer sessions. But because the full UC fee hike goes into effect at UCLA this summer, “I was fearing the worst and we haven’t gotten the worst,” she said.
Even before the UC system became even more crippled this year by furloughs and budget cuts, Micham added, “it was already the understanding here that if you want to get your degree done in four years, you’re going to have to do a summer.” About 80 percent of UCLA students spend at least one summer taking classes, she said, “but they make the best of it – there are fewer students on campuses, things aren’t as crowded, class sizes are smaller.” And, perhaps most importantly in the era of oversubscribed required courses, “in the summertime, there’s no line to get into classes.”
Youngstown State University's summer enrollment is down 266 students to 4622 thus far, said Ronald Cole, a spokesperson. "The numbers are so preliminary and fluid at this stage that we're not worried."
Greg McCalley, associate vice president for student affairs at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said his institution has seen its summer sessions grow in popularity for the last few years. “With the economy as it is, we’re seeing a lot more students interested in continuing on with their education instead of taking the summers off,” he said. “They want to get their degrees done earlier and this is a way to stack up the hours and get a lot of courses out of the way quickly.”
As of Tuesday, 5,012 students had enrolled in the summer session, up 4.6 percent from 4,789 a year ago. Credit hours, McCalley added, were up 6.3 percent, suggesting that some students may be taking on heavier course loads this summer than they did in the past.
Eastern Michigan University reports that 5,775 students have signed up for summer classes. A year ago, the number was 5,358. While the headcount is up 7.8 percent, credit hours are up 8.3 percent, hinting at the same pattern as at Missouri-St. Louis.
At the University of Central Florida, summer enrollment is up about 5 percent, to 31,500, said Gordon D. Chavis, associate vice president for undergraduate admissions, student financial assistance and student outreach. The university hasn’t yet surveyed students but what he’s heard so far from current UCF students suggests that “the fact that students are unable to gain employment in the summer is probably one of the major reasons why they’re taking classes,” he said.
As of late last week, more than 6,600 students had enrolled in Boise State University’s summer classes, a 5.4 percent increase over a year ago. Washington State University in Pullman has 4,700 summer students so far, about 150 more than it did last year at this time.
The Houston Community College District experienced dramatic enrollment growth during the academic year that seems to be carrying on into the summer. “We’re seeing more students than ever who want to take summer classes,” said Diana Pinot, vice chancellor for student services. As of Tuesday, 28,771 students had signed up for summer classes, up from 21,216 a year ago at this time. Thousands more, she said, will sign up as the summer rolls on.
Though the Houston district has not yet surveyed students to learn who they are and why they’ve chosen to enroll, Pinot said she thinks the 35 percent growth over last summer is an extension of the trends that drove enrollments up throughout the academic year, as well as an indication that greater numbers of students from four-year institutions are opting to take summer community college classes. “Some of these students are coming back home to work or to save resources in terms of room and board by living with their parents,” she said, “and they want to take advantage of the fact that we’re less expensive than four-year universities.”
The same factors are at play at other community colleges. The Community College of Vermont projects a summer enrollment totaling 1,065 students, up 7 percent from last year. Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, has nearly 7,200 students already enrolled in summer classes; a year ago, 6,000 students had enrolled.