Home for the Summer, and Online on Campus

Colleges find their own residential students are good targets for distance learning this time of year, with education and financial payoffs.

June 21, 2017
Seattle University
Seattle University is one of a growing number of institutions offering summer online courses to residential students.

Full-time students studying for a master’s of strategic communication degree at American University in Washington, D.C., are required to take two summer school classes so they can finish the program in one year. Most of them also complete an internship before they graduate.

More often than not, those internships start in May or June, creating a conflict for students who leave Washington for their summer jobs and are unable to be on campus for the required classes.

So for the past few years, American has allowed the communication graduate students to enroll in online classes during the summer. The six- and seven-week classes let the students stick with the program’s timetable for graduation without “tethering them to D.C.,” said Pallavi Kumar, division director of public communication in American’s School of Communication.

American University is one of a growing number of institutions that are accommodating students who attend traditional, face-to-face classes during the fall and spring semesters but can’t or don’t want to stick around all summer for on-campus classes. Many offer few or no online courses during the regular school year.

The trend, said Kevin Krycka, director of summer programs for Seattle University, has two drivers. First, online summer classes keep students and their tuition dollars at the institution where they will earn their degrees. Krycka said many Seattle University undergraduates were enrolling in summer classes at universities in their home towns or in the cities where they had summer jobs or internships, and then transferring the credits to Seattle.

Second, Krycka said, surveys revealed that those students would prefer to take their summer classes from the Seattle University professors “they know and trust.”

“A significant amount of students are involved either in foreign travel, study abroad or internships, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally,” Krycka said. “There was kind of a niche there that we weren’t really serving.”

Smaller Course Selection

Unless a specific graduate degree is offered online from start to finish, universities and colleges are unlikely to duplicate every face-to-face course online. Notre Dame University, for instance, offers 10 online summer undergraduate courses and limits the selection to required core curriculum classes like math, English and philosophy.

“We typically try to target high-enrollment areas or persistent demand areas, and those are usually in gen ed requirements,” said Chief Academic Digital Officer Elliott Visconsi, who noted that most undergraduates who take the classes use the summer to get ahead so they can graduate early or lighten their course loads during the regular academic year.

About 150 students enroll in online courses there every summer, Visconsi said.

At American University, strategic communication students may take electives, but not core requirements, online during the summer. Seattle University, which started its online summer program three years ago, offered 17 online courses this summer but will not offer any during the fall or spring semesters.

Not for Every Student

Still, online summer school isn’t without its challenges. Amy Eisman, director of media entrepreneurship and special programs for American University, recalled one online student who was traveling abroad all summer with a basketball team and missed several assignments because he was unable to get access to the Internet at several points during the compressed semester.

“It’s not a great excuse, said Eisman, who teaches communication. “It just goes to show that you need [to] know [what to expect] before you go in.”

Eisman also dissuaded a student who was getting married in the summer from taking an online class with the hope that she could squeeze her coursework in as she prepared for the wedding, hosted out-of-town family members and traveled for her honeymoon.

“You can’t just take off two weeks and keep up,” Eisman said. “It’s just like anything: Some people can do [a summer course] and some people can’t.”

Krycka said Seattle University students “are warned right up front that if they’re traveling to China or Indonesia, that some sites [like YouTube] are blocked. Some of the content is screened in the Middle East. So there are some regional issues that certain courses encounter.”

He added, however, “They’re surmountable and students are given options of how to get around it. And we tell them it’s not in our control. It’s just how the world is.”

For students spending the summer abroad—or even on a different coast than the college—time zones can present an issue if a professor includes live discussions and meetings on the syllabus.

Visconsi, who teaches English, recalled a summer class with students living in seven time zones checking in from Ireland, Brazil, Honduras, Chicago, New York, Texas and Ohio. All were Notre Dame students who took on-campus classes during the regular school year.

In fact, he said, the institution does not advertise its online summer classes beyond its own student body, although he noted that non-degree-seeking students and those from other universities are welcome to enroll.

Expanding Online Offerings

Online summer classes have proven popular enough to convince some campus administrators to expand their digital offerings into the fall and spring semesters.

At Seattle University, for example, the provost’s office is “seriously thinking about maybe stepping that into the regular year,” said Krycka, who noted that most of the institution’s online courses fill to capacity each summer.

The most compelling reason to expand into the regular semesters, he said, is that “more and more” adult learners who want to earn degrees find campus-only classes a barrier. “Our student body is traditional college age. … The university is taking a directional turn where that is concerned.”




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