Summer semester's curriculum choices could increase at colleges

Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 9:13 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 9:13 a.m.

University of Florida students soon may have more choices when it comes to summer classes.

The number of traditional summer electives and general education courses offered is adequate, but offering a full curriculum year-round could increase summer enrollment figures for the state's 11 public universities by 30,000, according to Mark Rosenberg, chancellor of Florida's public universities.

A broader schedule of classes could put students on a speedier path to a degree, university administrators argue. That in turn opens up spaces for new students and cuts the costs of providing the education.

While the state Board of Governors will vote on the matter Thursday, UF officials have already begun deliberations, Provost Janie Fouke said.

"We have been talking about expanding summer courses for students, specifically courses that are difficult for students to get into in the fall," she said.

Nearly 30,000 UF students now are enrolled in the B and C summer sessions, according to the provost's office. And some 10 new classes were added to this year's summer session including more sections of macroeconomics, an "African-American Theater" course and a journalism class covering the "Social Aspects of Rock Music."

But not everyone agrees that more summer courses will make students graduate sooner.

Most UF students use summer as a chance to catch up or get ahead in their course work, said Albert Matheny, associate dean of the academic advising office for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

"Students can retake classes in the summer," he said. "It's useful for fulfilling universal tracking requirements or if students want to change majors."

Many prospective UF students participate in dual enrollment programs at the high school level in addition to graduating with honors and International Baccalaureate credits. That means most incoming UF freshmen have already fulfilled the state's nine-credit summer residency requirement, according to Matheny.

"If the state Legislature really wants to accelerate the through-put for Florida graduates, they should rethink subsidizing associate degree programs at the high school level," he said.

While such freshmen already have a head start, transfer students from community colleges who meet critical tracking requirements will automatically begin UF as sophomores or juniors making it difficult for some to keep up, he said.

"I think students really need four full years of college," Matheny said. "Students should slow down in high school, and allow themselves to develop."

Expanding summer course offerings may still be helpful to some, Matheny suggests.

"We are one of the only universities that offers students a chance to take organic chemistry one, two and the lab in the summer," he said.

UF senior James Freni said he believes offering more summer courses is less advantageous to students than faculty might think.

"I don't like summer classes," he said. "The blocks are longer and you can't take that many classes because they will overlap."

Freni is currently enrolled in reporting, a core class for journalism students that fills up quickest in fall. Between work, class and homework, he said he hardly has any free time.

Employment may be another reason summer enrollment might not increase with more course offerings.

Florida Bright Futures scholarships don't cover summer semesters causing some students to get hit harder by course fees for those terms.

On the other hand, professors with a nine-month appointment receive a small stipend for teaching summer courses. Funding for salaries is another concern for legislators who are debating summer course expansion.

"A lot of our professors are research oriented, but most would probably like the extra money," Matheny said.

UF professor Francis W. Zettler has been teaching the introductory biology course, "Plants, Plagues and People," since 1990. Now retired, Zettler said the course is in such high demand that he returns every year to teach it in the spring and summer semesters.

"As far as teaching summer is concerned, there are pros and cons," he said. "It's exhausting trying to stay on the mark, and you do have to make some adjustments."

Zettler said he had 500 students enrolled in the course in spring and about 194 enrolled in Summer B.

"Based on student evaluations and input, I don't see any difference between summer and spring," he said. "I'm of the mind-set, the more options the better."

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