USC expanding its summer semester

ashain@thetate.comJanuary 14, 2013 

USC moving to expand its summer semester

Summer may no longer be a time for University of South Carolina students to take an internship, job or trip: They could take classes just like they do in the fall and spring.

The state’s flagship university is expanding its summer semester this year to more resemble the traditional portions of the school year. USC, which begins spring classes today, is among just a handful of schools nationwide to expand to the full third semester, experts said.

A longer summer semester is a nod to the end of traditional scheduling, based on an agrarian culture, and gives students more options, under an initiative the school calls “On Your Time,” to graduate when they want.

The extended summer semester could allow students to a finish a degree in three years, catch up on classes if they switch majors, take additional courses for a double major or take an internship or study abroad in the autumn or spring semesters without falling behind.

“Accounting students can get excellent training, but the biggest demand is during the spring (tax time),” USC provost Michael Amiridis said.

The added school time also should help alleviate a crunch for popular classes — such as freshmen- and sophomore-level courses — as USC’s enrollment has risen by more than 20 percent in the past decade to add 5,500 students on campus.

“We are at capacity,” Amiridis said.

USC expects to have about 100 more instructors and 100 to 150 more classes this summer than last year — and they could double current levels if students are drawn to the extra term, said Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, dean of USC’s College of Arts and Sciences, leader of the summer school effort.

Classes will be offered for longer stretches starting soon after the spring semester ends in May, allowing for courses that did not have enough time to be held in the shorter summer sessions, Fitzpatrick said.

Some of the summer offerings could include more pre-med classes, a set of business school classes for non-business majors and language-immersion dorms, Fitzpatrick said.

USC is opening 800 dorm rooms for summer school students — about double from last year.

Adding more classes and staff, and opening more dorms will boost costs, but the school does not have figures, Amiridis said. USC must figure out how to pay faculty and advisors, who usually get salaries for nine months.

Administrators are unsure how many additional students could attend summer classes. About 9,500 students attended last year, Fitzpatrick said. Total enrollment on the Columbia campus is nearly 31,000.

Summer class tuition is charged on a per-credit basis. Classes will cost $421 per credit this year, up 3.4 percent from a year ago and slightly higher than the 3.1 percent hike for the fall-spring semesters.

Tuition could rise as more students enroll and courses offerings grow for the extra semester, administrators said. But student costs will not go as high as the fall-spring semesters when more campus activities are offered, such as sporting events.

Summer students will need to get creative in getting financial aid. Popular federal Pell Grants cannot be used in the summer, and S.C. Education Lottery scholarships can be used only in the summer with special permission. USC is working with state legislators to change the law and allow lottery scholarship money to be spread over a whole year, administrators said.

Just a few schools nationwide have adopted longer summer semesters, though officials at a pair of Washington-based academic trade groups did not have exact numbers. Interest has risen with the lingering sour economy of the past five years, the officials said.

Schools are looking for ways to boost revenue with cuts in state funding and buildings that remain open but unused during the summer, said Michael Tanner, vice president for academic affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

“There has been such a shift in mentality,” he said. “Schools will look to use that capacity ... and they want to make more intensive use of the buildings.”

Schools that have started offering longer summer sessions have found popular classes, usually those required for favored majors, fill as quickly as they do in the fall and spring, said Michelle Mott, an associate director at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. In response, they have offered larger classes but usually avoid experimental or new courses that are not guaranteed to draw students, she said.

Still, winning over students used a summer break could be tough.

“Societal habits are long-standing,” Tanner said.

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