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More collegians spending their summers in class

Times Staff Writer

His students at Cal State Long Beach said they enjoyed professor Graham Thomas’ upper division English class that surveyed children’s literature ranging from ancient classics such as Aesop’s fables to modern novels such as Lois Lowry’s “The Giver.”

But they also had another reason to enroll in the summer course: They want to graduate from college somewhat on time.

While friends hit the beach or work at full-time summer jobs, more students than ever in California’s public universities are enrolled in summer classes to avoid the all too common five- or six-year degree plan. Many say they were unable to gain entrance to the courses during the regular school year’s crowded sessions or they want to concentrate on earning good grades with fewer distractions than in the fall and spring.

Many Cal State and UC campuses are marketing their summer sessions more strongly than in the past, and some schools are offering discounts on fees to encourage attendance. Besides, officials and students say, it is easier to park, the library and gym are less crowded and the six- or eight-week sessions still allow for some hot-weather relaxation before the regular grind resumes.

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Wendy Carr, a liberal studies major enrolled this summer in Thomas’ class and a psychology course at Cal State Long Beach, plans to attend summer session next year too. “Without this, I would have to graduate in five years,” said Carr, who will be a junior in the fall and plans to become a teacher. She skipped a summer trip but made the sacrifice “to continue through school, just to get through it.”

Attitudes like hers please state higher education officials, who see summer sessions as a way to cope with the current enrollment bulge at Cal State and UC campuses and to reduce the drive to build more classrooms. State budget uncertainties led some campuses to cut back on summer classes four years ago and to increase the fees that students pay for summer classes.

For example, across the 23-campus Cal State system, summer course offerings declined substantially in 2004. As a result, so did enrollment.

But renewed state subsidies to schools in the last few years have turned things around.

Enrollment has risen, with about 86,000 Cal State students taking state-subsidized summer classes in 2005 and about 91,800 last summer.

Figures for this summer have not yet been compiled, but Jim Blackburn, the Cal State system’s associate director for enrollment management services, said he expected another increase. “It does seem to be a movement among students and among campuses to encourage people to graduate sooner,” he said.

At the University of California, state subsidies for teaching salaries and other summer school costs were extended from three campuses in 2001 to all nine undergraduate campuses last year, a process that took longer than originally expected because of state money problems.

Still, summer enrollments of UC students rose from about 40,000 seven years ago to 66,000 last summer, according to Carol Copperud, the system’s acting director of academic planning and budget. Most campuses are reporting rises again this year, some as much as 10%.

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Besides signing up for courses that may be oversubscribed at other times, many summer students tackle “that really hard class and concentrate on it without the distraction of a heavy load,” Copperud said.

UCLA has seen its summer enrollment rise about 7% this year, to about 15,000, said Kathleen Micham, campus marketing and communications manager for summer sessions. And most summer students, she said, are taking two courses, many focusing on the writing or foreign language classes they need for graduation.

Summer courses usually require the same number of class hours as in a traditional semester or quarter but on a tighter, more intense schedule. For example, Thomas’ children’s literature course, with about 30 students, met for 2 1/2 hours three days a week for six weeks.

After briskly leading a class discussion about the repressed dystopia in “The Giver,” Thomas said he enjoyed summer teaching in part because the students are very motivated.

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“Because of the time frame, they are pressed to get things done,” he said, “and I think they learn possibly more in a six-week summer session than in a regular semester because of the continuity. This is three days in a row -- boom, boom, boom.”

Cal State Long Beach sophomore Friday Bakhos said she liked that fast pace and the chance to interact with teachers more in summer. In part to meet requirements for an exchange study program in Britain this fall, the international studies major is taking courses in English composition and economics this summer. “It’s a lot of homework, but I think it’s worth it because you get your degree faster,” she said.

Not everyone enjoys the schedule. Sophomore Miranda O’Reilly found that the speed of her English composition course made it difficult to retain all the information. “In fall classes, you actually have time to breathe,” the marketing major said.

David Dowell, Cal State Long Beach’s vice provost, said the campus, which is expecting about 36,500 students in the fall, has added summer classes with a priority on courses that meet graduation requirements and those that are oversubscribed at other times.

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“We basically try to cater to student needs in terms of offerings,” he said, adding that summer enrollment has grown from about 8,500 three years ago to about 10,300 this year.

Summer fees at Cal State are generally $179 a credit; and at UC, $147 for regular students, plus various campus-based charges and books. However, many students report that financial aid is much less readily available in the summer.

Some schools are offering a money incentive without regard to financial need.

For example, at UC Irvine, any summer credits beyond eight are free. That offer, which could mean a free third course, caused a jump in student credit hours of 40% when initiated last year, said Gary Matkin, dean of continuing education and director of the summer session.

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“It’s a sort of financial aid package to anybody who is aggressive in the summer, who wants to finish their degree faster and fill in their holes,” he said.

UC Davis is giving a 50% discount on some popular sophomore level chemistry and physics courses to relieve pressure on laboratory facilities during the rest of the year. Enrollment in those science classes is at least a third higher than last summer, said Fred Wood, UC Davis’ associate vice provost for undergraduate studies.

UC Davis also is giving a 25% break on all summer fees to seniors who will finish their degree by September.

It is not clear whether that lure is working because about 1,000 seniors have enrolled this summer, nearly the same as last year, when the deal was not offered. But many seniors have told Wood that they appreciate the financial help to graduate because they “don’t want to sign a lease for an apartment for another year and want to begin employment in the fall,” he said.

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UCLA has an incentive that only a driver familiar with Westwood can appreciate. Students who take at least two summer classes and earn at least a C in both are eligible to enter a raffle for that most keenly sought prize: a free parking pass for the fall.

larry.gordon@latimes.com


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