Wednesday, May 30, 2007


A Local Quirk?

At my cc, the percentage of classes taught by full-time faculty in the first summer session is actually higher than it is during the regular academic year. I don't know if this is a local quirk, but it's noticeable. (And I know that pay isn't the issue, since we have a flat rate we pay for summer courses: a full-timer makes only about ten percent above the adjunct rate for a summer class. It's certainly nothing close to pro-rated.)

I've asked some of the faculty who stick around for the first session – roughly, late May and all of June – and they always give the same answer. We have very different students in the first summer session.

These students are typically traditional-age students who live in the area but who 'go away' to four-year colleges during the academic year. They're home for the summer, and picking up a few classes here to save some money and depressurize their schedules. They take a class or two in the morning, then go to work. The hallways are buzzing at 8:30, but dead shortly after noon. They don't pick up again until around 6:30.

The professors I've asked about it tell me that the students in this session are much lower-maintenance than the usual bunch. As one put it, “I say it once and they've got it.” He compared it to what he'd usually only find in an Honors section. They're certainly lower-maintenance on my end – after the first couple of days, it's unusual to see any in my office. Plagiarism complaints are few and far between this time of year.

My impression is that the 'visiting' students are generally more affluent than their year-round counterparts, and they bring with them many of the advantages of that affluence. (Those advantages are many: they can work fewer hours; they drive cars that are less likely to break down and cause them to miss class; they often have better preparation from high school; they know the unwritten rules of behavior in a classroom.) Judging by the faculty response, many full-timers are hungry for students who make teaching easier.

Oddly, the dynamic only seems to hold for the first session. The July-August session is almost entirely adjunct. The enrollments then are considerably lower, too. I suspect that this has to do with vacations.

It's striking to me, since it's the polar opposite of the stereotype of summer school. The stereotype is that summer school is full of losers, nobody wants to be there, and the whole enterprise is a bit of a joke. Here, summer school – at least for the first session – is a sort of annual foray into upscaling. For a month and a half, we get the upper-middle-class kids who usually shun cc's.

Is this a local quirk, or have you seen the same thing elsewhere?


Absolutely see it here too (large regional state university, good percentage of first-generation students, many and very active summer programs). I'd say your analysis is about right, with the added observation that another advantage of affluence is awareness of the value in a long-term (4-year) game plan for moving through coursework, including requirements, electives, sometimes Study Abroad, and summer school.

Also, summer school is more intensive, yet more relaxed: at our campus, in a 5-week term we will see students every day, but the classes are usually smaller, more motivated, and more interactive.

There's a lot to be said for it.
It happens here in the Southwest, too. Being on the front lines I know there is a difference in the student quality in summer vs. fall/ spring.

I do see the occasional bit of arrogance ("Why do you need to see my transcript from Snooty U?") but most of the time they know the game, the rules, and the score and take care of business.

I can't speak for ccs, but at my university summer school is a prime time for grad students to teach because of some of the reasons you listed. Also, I think that summer students are generally more motivated and well behaved because they want to be in school; summer school weeds out the slackers. I taught last summer and absolutely loved my students. I would've taught this summer too, but the daily grind was a bit much, so I am just continuing with my second, non-teaching job.
We have bimodal summer classes. Those staying around to get ahead, and those struggling to catch up. We have two 6 week summer sessions. I rarely advise someone to take intro Physics in 6 weeks (2.5 hrs a day, 3-4 labs a week, 1 test a week) if they really struggled in 15, its kind of insane. Course a local school offers a year of intro physics for pre med types mainly getting ready to pass (and forget) the physics of the MCAT, and they do the year in 8 weeks, 6 days per....

I agree with The History Enthusiast: at my university, where summer session is frequently taught by grad students beefing up their CVs before hitting up the job market, the distribution is strongly bimodal. When I taught Intro to International Relations, half my class was graduating majors in International Studies or Political Science who had never picked up the distribution requirement, and the other half was whiz kid high school students at the university as part of a supervised residential summer program.
However, the two modes did not neatly correspond to those two categories. Some of the seniors were lazy, or had flunked the course before for a reason, and some of the high school kids weren't ready yet. However, most of the seniors were where they should have been (which is to say, a bit bored by an Intro class), and a couple of the high schoolers knocked it out of the park.
I saw something similar over 20 years ago, when I was attending a Pricey Midwestern Private University for Music school. Most students (grads & undergrads) were on partial scholarships which covered tuition during the regular year, but not summer. What the more astute (and largely working class) undergrads did was load up on general ed credits at the local community college during the summer. They would take 6-9 credits during June (which would transfer in), then work July & August (waiting tables or for UPS).

Some of the undergrad students actually graduated a semester early...which is RARE in music school. Others picked up another major, since the job prospects in music are so fabulous (SNARK!). But hitting the local CC for general ed classes in the summer time was VERY popular.
I had friends at a Jesuit college in a major metropolitan area, and for them the big divide was between day students and night students. The night students were largely non-traditional people with day jobs, and they outshone the day students hugely.
I suspect that the summer school stereotype comes from high schools. I suppose it could be vastly different there, but in my high school, a student could only take courses they had already failed in the high school's summer school.
adjuncts don't get to teach summer school at our cc. the pay is high and there is fierce competition: the whole department gets together for a "rotation" where each person, in order of eligibility based on last summer's courses, chooses course #1 and maybe course #2. people send proxies, there's great deliberation, preferences for early or late summer sessions, etc. all make it very sticky.

the students are great. some from outside, some from within, very few high schoolers -- at least in summer session I since the high schools are still having classes.
I certainly see it at our CC, confirmed with another faculty member between classes. We both teach gen-ed science classes (physical and earth). Now I normally only teach this class in the summer, but my experience is that students do better for two reasons.

One is what you mention: self selection. I only have a couple of "outsiders", but the rest include more senior students. They have learned some study habits, and are building on success in other classes as they wrap up their AA degree. Even the others pick up on the habits of these students.

The other is the 6 week session. This concentrates the mind. In a class that is going to be a learn-to-forget course, there is little time to forget before the final rolls around. Lessons learned from tests carry forward to the next test and the final. Now granted, I put a lot of effort into selling the plus side of what seems like a huge negative (75 min a day means 2+ hours of HW each day), but it pays off if you have motivated students.

I do notice a difference when I have taught an intro algebra class rather than science. That reaches new students rather than almost graduates. In that case, first 6 weeks is bad (mostly 2 time losers) while the second 6 weeks is great (mostly fresh HS graduates). For science, first 6 weeks seems better. I think they have more of a plan.
I've almost always had great students and great teaching experiences when I've taught summer session. However, teaching two nights a week, three hours a night, for six to twelve weeks is intensely draining when I'm trying to do research and admin duties as well. So I'm slightly saddened to hand the opportunity off to other people. But knowing that their financial situation is probably a lot more parlous than my own, I know they'll appreciate the opportunity all the more.
At my southern California cc, most summer classes are taught by adjunct faculty because 1.) full-timers--especially in the English department where I work--are tired after two semesters of a 5/5 load; 2.) summertime pay is one-third of regular full-time pay; and 3.) adjuncts earn more because they're able to teach more hours each week.

When I was an adjunct in a mega-city in Texas, some of what you said was true, although it depended upon the neighborhood in which the particular campus was located.

For the first semester, morning and evening classes were generally full. They also tended to be filled with students who went to the two major state universities which meant you had either the highly motivated or the slackers. The slackers were the ones would show up hung-over from their summer partying the night before (one actually admitted that she came straight from her night out -- gotta love the energy of the youth!), and were only taking a community college class because they thought it would be easy. (Boy, were they in for a big surprise!)

The evening classes were uniformly motivated because, well, they always were. Teachers were usually a mix of both full-time and adjunct; but the full-timers seemed to prefer the morning ones.

For the second session, all instructors were adjunct teachers with maybe one full-timer who needed the extra cash. The classes were tiny, and mostly students who were going part-time for their degree, so wanted to get as many classes in the year as possible. I swear, I had a class of five people, starting at 8 pm and ending at 10 pm, and every single one of them really wanted to be there, some even came straight from work to the 5 pm class to the 8 pm class.

We also had "mini-sessions" during the intersessions. Adjuncts always taught those, and the students were again, ambitious to finish their degrees. The classes were surprisingly large, too.

There was also a lot more camaraderie in those later summer and intersession semesters, regardless of the class size. It was as if we all--students and teachers--realized that we were all in this together, so we might as well enjoy it! That, or something like the unit cohesion that develops in wartime. Maybe it was also that we spent so much time together on a more regular basis than in the school year.
This holds true in my cc, too. Summer classes are paradise! They work harder, they show up regularly, they don't whine, and they are more open to challenging assignments.
Hallway chatter at my cc suggests your characterization holds true at our little campus.
I love my summer classes at my CC.

It is exactly the mix you describe. It also seems to me that, because summer session is pretty intense work, it keeps away the slackers whose parents insist they go to college -- or else!

Also, first summer seems to be the choice session for full-timers, as the pay is pro-rated and we are already in teaching mode. It gives us all of July and part of August to re-charge :).
Odd related question:

What kind of orientation do you do for your new students? The implication is that they need it more than other folks might. Also, do your counselors do any work on time budgetting -- e.g. "If you work this many hours, sleep this many hours, and spend this much time on hygiene and family obligations, you logically have this many hours to fit school into," kind of conversations?
Sorry, still musing:

If your student body is capable of a qualitative jump in quality, I can really see where faculty burnout can hit hard. There really needs to be some incentives -- cash or recognition -- given to the folks who are taking on the less rewarding courses. Alternately, there needs to be some work in figuring out how to make the courses which are currently more difficult to teach more inherently rewarding. Or some combination thereof.
Just one more comment. I am a graduate student teaching summer school for the second time at a Private Fairly Prestigious U. The students in my classes have been excellent - a mix of pre-med students who are trying to get in their general ed requirements, and who are uniformly extremely hard workers and very grade-conscious; non-traditional students or folks who have taken one or more years off in the middle of the BA; and kids from the community college trying to get a jump start before leaping into the 4-year college realm. I like the intensity and brevity of the term, too.
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