While high-demand courses during the standard academic term may lack enough capacity to meet demand, courses outside of the traditional academic year are typically scheduled without central oversight and are often under-filled. The intersession between holiday break and spring term is often unused altogether or treated as an optional enrichment opportunity.
Many universities are experimenting with shorter (often seven-week) course offerings that meet course demand from students who withdraw early in the term, are unable to register for a preferred or required course, desire enrichment, or missed a requirement in an earlier term (often the case for transfer students).
To ensure enrollment and promote student success, universities can market summer, winter, accelerated, and online offerings directly to students who are required to take the offered courses. Students who have not met the full-time requirement or those who are missing required courses in their degree plan are especially critical populations to target for these courses.
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The University of Maine (UMaine) is one institution taking advantage of an opportunity in the intersession period between fall and spring terms.
UMaine screened course offerings based on two criteria: historical barriers to student progression (general education bottlenecks, highly sequenced courses, and major requirements), and courses amenable to compression into a fully-online, 5-days-per-week, 3-week format. Faculty who teach these courses are then offered overload pay as well as a $500 grant to work with instructional designers to develop accelerated courses.
To address potential student affordability and access issues that might impact student demand for intersesssion courses, UMaine administrators moved the winter session dates later, so that it could be billed as part of the spring term. Students can now pay for winter session as part of their regular spring term tuition. The change to billing is exceptionally critical for students using financial aid, as federal and state aid1 frequently does not cover intersession courses.
UMaine piloted its restructured winter session in January 2016. As planned, faculty offered a total of 20 three-credit courses, mainly major requirements, sequenced courses, and general education bottlenecks. Many of these courses had already been adapted into a compressed and/or online format for summer session, so they were good candidates for further acceleration.
Early results from the pilot indicate that winter session is having the intended impact on graduation. UMaine saw 650 students enroll in winter session, which led to a four percentage point increase in the number of students taking 15 credits in spring 2016 vs. spring 2015.
Reduced credit attempts during the regular term are one of the main concerns with building out a robust alternative term; however, UMaine’s winter session resulted in 2000 additional credit hours accumulated, with no decrease in spring term accumulation.
Given the success of the intersession pilot, UMaine is looking to scale the benefits to more students by easing bottlenecks in upper-division courses. By adding availability in winter, UMaine can meet excess demand without compromising the smaller class sizes typically associated with upper-level courses.
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