Education

Summer Classes, 2022 Edition | Confessions of a Community College Dean

Prior to the pandemic, the direction of enrollment (up or down) in the spring and fall was usually also the direction of enrollment in the summer. When enrollment went up, it went up across seasons; when it went down, it went down all year long.

The pandemic severed the link between summers and what we sometimes call the “long” semesters. As spring and fall dropped, summer (and January intersession) went up. This year, early summer is down and late summer is up.

Your guess is as good as mine.

The other great disconnect has been in preference by modality. In the most recent fall and spring, we saw a general trend toward in-person classes. But this year, summer demand for online classes was proportionately higher than expected. I’m guessing that has to do with the employees’ market for summer jobs, especially here, where summer tourism is a major industry even in normal years, let alone a year with a labor shortage. Asynchronous online classes are easier to work around shifting part-time hours.

Connections between summer and the long semesters can be instructive. For example, the summer sessions are shorter: the first and third sessions are six weeks each, with the second 10-week section connecting the two. (Long semesters are 15 weeks.) The idea is that in the summer, students take fewer classes at a time but spend more hours per week in each.

The results are consistent: summer classes have higher pass rates. (January classes have the highest pass rates of all.) That’s even true if we filter out the “visiting” students who are matriculated at four-year schools and take summer classes with us with the intention of transferring them back. I even asked the IR office to compare the GPAs of spring and fall students with the GPAs of our own summer students to see if the higher pass rates were the result of student self-selection. The GPAs were the same. The key difference was having more time for fewer tasks.

Before the pandemic, the early-summer session felt a bit like the spring session. It drew heavily on full-time faculty, who could make extra money teaching in late May and June and still have July and August to do other things. Departments were often still humming through June. Early summer still draws heavily from full-time faculty, but with so much of summer having moved online, the feel on campus is notably quieter.

One of the best classes I ever taught was a summer class full of honors students from area high schools. They couldn’t even fake the jadedness that many older students display, so they jumped in with both feet. It was glorious. A class like American Government often involves as much dispelling of myths as actual teaching, but they were blessedly uncynical, so we were able to get right to the good stuff. And since we met four days a week, the readings were fresh enough in their minds that class discussions didn’t require much review. Yes, the classroom was sometimes too hot, but it was worth it.

I don’t know if the new disconnect between summer enrollments and semester enrollments will be the new normal, or if it’s still pandemic-related turbulence working through the system. I’m hoping it’s the latter, but it’s too soon to tell.

Wise and worldly readers, are you seeing similar fluctuations in other places?

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