Potential for change: ‘Summer school’ becomes ‘summer session’
CLEMSON — Since coming to Clemson in 2012 as the director of summer session, Blake Snider has made it his mission to change the way students think about year-round education. In fact, in an effort to remove the stigma associated with the term “summer school” and to be more consistent with other institutions, Clemson University is in the process of rebranding summer school as “summer session.”
According to Snider, when most people think of summer school, they think of “failing 10th grade geometry,” but he believes that university summer courses differ from this image because they offer the ability to get ahead.
A 2013 student survey conducted by the university shows that the No. 1 reason students enroll in summer courses is to stay on track for graduation. But Snider believes that the summer session can do even more: by taking courses in the summer, students have the opportunity to graduate early.
Getting ahead is one of the main benefits that Snider believes sets summer session apart from the fall and spring semesters.
“Time is money. If you’re trying to complete your education in a timely manner, summer session is the way to do it,” he said.
Flexibility in scheduling summer courses is another benefit exclusive to the summer session, which is currently divided into seven “terms,” including “summer” term, which lasts for the entire summer; first and second summer, each lasting for half of the duration of the summer; as well as four “minimesters” that generally last three weeks, thus providing several opportunities for students to take courses.
Online courses also provide flexibility for Clemson students, who, with an online course, are able to take classes from home. Many of the courses being offered this summer session are online, which is one factor that Snider believes has increased enrollment in summer education in addition to marketing campaigns.
In recent years, Clemson University has been pushing to increase the summer session enrollment. According to Snider, this is due to its potential for growth and development in innovative programs for students.
In the summer of 2014, the total credit hours taken was equivalent to approximately 15 percent of the total credit hours taken during the fall 2013 semester. Snider said that although this number is smaller than other universities, it is not insignificant.
This year, there has been an increase in the number of summer session credit hours for which students have registered, including students who attend other universities. The official numbers won’t be released until the fall semester begins, but this is hopeful news to those who wish to see expansion of the summer session.
Snider hopes that the increase in summer enrollment will give students the opportunity to take new, innovative courses that will only be available in the summer. One of these programs, the Human Remains Recovery Lab, is in its second year.
Katy Weisensee, the instructor for this course, believes that the flexibility of summer schedules is what enables a program of this nature to exist.
“Because it’s so intensive, it would be hard to do during a fall or spring semester,” said Weisensee. “You have a good chunk of time during the summer that allows for more time in the field. That would not be possible in the fall or spring semesters.”
Chandler Smith, a student in Weisensee’s course, admits that she was apprehensive about taking a class over the summer, but that she has come to realize the many benefits of this course, the most important of which she believes to be the opportunity for hands-on experience.
Andrew Farmer, another student in the course, agrees with Smith. “You can learn all you want, but until you’re actually there it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Yet despite the opportunities for programs providing hands-on experience, one of the top concerns for students taking summer courses is the cost.
Although the price for summer courses is the same as for a part-time student enrolled in the fall and spring semesters, there is a significant lack of financial aid for summer education due to the fact that most students have exhausted their aid during the previous fall and spring semesters. Snider is hopeful that this will change and is beginning to see a push for more financial opportunities for the summer.
Until recently, for instance, the South Carolina Education Lottery scholarships would not cover the cost of summer sessions. However, this year has been the first year where students are seeing change. The policy regarding how lottery scholarships can be used changed in 2014, and 2015 is the first summer session in which students have the option to use their lottery scholarships in place of a fall or spring semester.
Snider points out that the lack of financial aid opportunities for summer session is related to the structure of the academic calendar, which traditionally has consisted of fall and spring semesters. This leaves summer session to be viewed as an “extra” rather than necessity. The inclusion of summer session as one of the semesters during which students may use their state lottery scholarships is a relatively new concept.
Clemson’s next step in summer education is to be able to offer more programs like Weisensee’s that can provide students with valuable field experience, and Snider hopes that as time passes, the summer session will continue to grow and offer more innovative programs for students.