Thursday, October 23, 2008



Wise and worldly readers, I need the benefit of your varied experience.

Have you been able to make a January intersession work on your campus?

If so, how?

It's a totally different environment from yours, but DePauw University has had one for more than 30 years, and it seems to work. One reason for that is that they can use it as an international experience for students, so many of the courses involve off-campus, out-of-the-country experiences.
West Texas A&M University has a winter intersession. I didn't work directly with it, but I'm sure they'd be happy to talk with you about it.
I was at a school that tried it. It's an interesting proposition. We quit it after 3 years. Though it was beginning to catch on, there was just not enough student buy-in to make it work. I think you need at least four to make sure that it would work. Of course, in a cc I would try it for 3 years to see if it catches on. (formula= usual stay for students + one year to get the culture established). I'm interested in seeing what others think.
We offer a lot of GE classes and some basic science classes that do not require labs so folks that have gotten off track can get back on. Students use it to spread out their course load (taking a class over winter that would have bumped them up to 17 units in the spring for example). And for popular GE courses, this allows some pressure to be released outside of Fall / Spring. The key is to choose classes that are low cost so the lower enrollment doesn't kill you.
We're on quarters, so our long dead time is early August to mid-September. We started a summer bridge program a few years ago that seems to be doing okay. The classes are mostly pre-college math and our college study skills courses. We tried some other more content-heavy and college-level courses, to less success.

The current working theory is that we can give people a head start on college, or work on the college-prep stuff in an intense, high-touch environment.

Like MountainLaurel suggested, though, it took a few years to really find its feet.
Manchester College in Indiana ( has a long tradition of "Jan Term". You take a single course that runs for about 3 weeks, meeting daily - or do something off-campus. Courses offered cover the whole range from electives to general studies, with the occasional upper-level course as well. Off campus options include internships (usually upper-level), cultural exposure (frequently cross-disciplinary, such as History/Art), observational (a common one when I attended was the Disney trip for Sociology - about a week in Disney World studying the regular visitors), and service/experience (pre-med routinely went to Central America to help in clinics).

Many of these don't map well to CC's, of course, but some could prove to be very effective. There are issues to be overcome, of course: the on-campus courses require a strong commitment from the students: 3 hours per day, 5 days per week allows you a much greater degree of focus than a traditional schedule, but isn't always viable for non-traditional students.
We have a three-week intensive session that runs after spring semester but before first-summer-session. Three hours a day for three weeks. I suppose you could run one in January if you had the time. It's like a second chance sweepstakes for the students who failed chalk-talk gen-eds during the regular term.

Ours makes good money because we don't offer fin-aid for it and it's taught almost exclusively by non-tenure-line faculty.
We have a four week break between fall and spring semester. We offer a four-week intersession that is only online courses. Low cost because there is no classroom use and it is overload (adjunct) pay for everyone regardless of position.
There aren't huge enrollment numbers but we still manage to add classes each year and they all continue to "make" (meet a minimum number).
MIT has a long tradition of this called the Independent Activities Period.

It's when all the fun stuff happens -- the Mystery Hunt, the Robot Competition, Charm School, the geology field camps, etc. I think you can also take compressed versions of regular-semester classes then, but the appeal is the fun stuff.

Don't know how it would translate to a CC, but it works great at MIT for getting people to relax and be creative and do educational activities beyond the classroom.
Calvin College also has a January term. From the grads I've spoken with, they like it. The college also brings in a lot of speakers during this time, so it provides a change of pace both for the students and the community.
Ours has actually worked marvelously. Our CC is in a large urban area; we cater in large part to students from 4-year schools who are home for the holidays. I started teaching the Santa Semester a decade ago, as a way of getting out of Christmas out of town at my sister-in-law's; now, I enjoy the intense give-and-take. We are upfront with the students: "This WILL be hard. This WILL play havoc with your free time"; and then we stack the work to fall right before the major holidays. It works.

I'll add Luther College to the list of SLACs mentioned here with a Jan. term intersession.

In addition to a change of pace between the semesters, many study abroad courses and the occasional opportunity to repeat a course for a better grade, we are trying to create unique learning opportunities. First-year students must now take a seminar course in their first Jan. term, and upperclassmen have expressed jealousy over some of these courses restricted to first-years only. But we're also requiring all students to take a second j-term course in which they either study off campus, complete an internship or perform some type of directed readings or research.

Jan. term allows a nice space for experimental, specialized or individualized learning that we aren't able to do as much in the semesters or in summer sessions.
The St. Paul, MN private schools have had J-term for a long time. It puts their spring term start date back pretty late and facilitates claims from students that the "have to" take the Ethics course that meets in Hawaii... but it seems to work for them.

In a large metro area, it may be hard to cover those classes with adjuncts unless other places have a J term as well.
Smith College has a thriving J-term. A cc couldn't do everything they do, but some things do spring to mind. They offer one-credit courses on a variety of specialized topics (four credits being the norm for a course). I believe they have one course on using some sort of computer aided design program that is commonly used (and therefore good for one's resume), but not commonly taught. That one is done over about ten hours on two days, I think. They also offer one-credit courses on popular books (one book per course). Being able to get credit for reading and talking about Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone would probably draw some of your students, and, like someone before me mentioned, you don't necessarily have to offer financial aid for J-term courses.

In fact, the one-credit course option seems even better suited for community colleges than four-year schools. A single credit doesn't do much for a student when she takes the standard four courses (of four credits) each semester for four years. A part-time cc student who spends several years at the school could, over time, easily get a full four credits out of J-term courses.

One other possible benefit: January is as close to down time as you're likely to find for staff. Smith's J-term set up lets particularly talented staff members teach courses on their specialties (for extra pay, of course, but the pay is not all that great; you might be able to offer to let people do it during working hours).

Finally, Smith sets up the schedule like so: people who want to teach courses (whether they're professors, students or whatever) apply online with a course outline and when they could teach it. For-credit courses get vetted by departments at some point. A person/committee then chooses the courses and sets up a schedule.

One last point: you might be able to run some trips abroad if you made sure that the costs went straight to the students. You might even be able to earn a (small bit) of money off of it. Smith didn't start trips abroad until its J-term history had been well-established, and they usually offered credit. If abroad is too much, what about a week-long trip to, for example, Revolutionary War battlefield sites in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area? That could offer credit for U.S. history. Similarly, do you have interesting local rock formations? Science credit there. Fossils? Museums? As long as you're careful to have the funds come from the students, there are probably a lot of options that you hadn't thought of.

Granted, that assumes that some students can afford museum entries/bus fees/et cetera, but local trips tend to be relatively cheap, and students often will go above and beyond for a chance to get some credit for a fun-sounding course.
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