Sunday, October 14, 2012


The Intersession Drive-By

I’m interested in hearing back from any of my wise and worldly readers who’ve seen or figured out ways to handle this situation elegantly.

My college offers a January intersession.  The idea is that students take a single class in a compressed timeframe.  For the last few years, it has worked remarkably well for students who are already here.  They can either make up for a slip in the Fall or start making headway on the Spring.  Course completion rates have floated around the 90 percent range, since such a short timeframe doesn’t give much opportunity for life to get in the way.  And anecdotal feedback from the faculty who have taught it has been glowing; they report that there’s an intensity that comes from “owning” the student entirely for a short time that lends itself well to certain types of classes.  

Admittedly, it’s not a panacea; I don’t know how a composition class could be done that quickly, for example.  There just wouldn’t be the time to grade.  But it seems to work really well for certain lab courses, some intro gen eds, and even statistics.  I remain convinced that it would make a great “boot camp” opportunity for a refresher course for adult students to skip developmental math.

The goal of the January session was twofold: to help “our” students maintain continuity, and to recruit “visiting” students who are pursuing degrees elsewhere, but who are home for the break.  A student at a pricier university who has nothing to do at home for a month might pick up a transferable gen ed class on the cheap and transfer it back.  The student would benefit from the cost savings, we’d benefit from the enrollment, and all would be well.

But we’re having some trouble marketing to and enrolling the drive-by student.

Individual financial aid is one issue.  By Federal guidelines, a student can only receive financial aid at one college at a time.  So a kid who’s enrolled at Regional U can’t transfer part of his award to Local CC to take Intro to Sociology in January.  I don’t really understand the rationale behind that -- it seems like a valid expense to me -- but there it is.

Institutional financial aid is a much hairier issue.  In order to maintain institutional eligibility, we can only admit “regular” students to our credit-bearing classes.  That means we need to verify high school graduation (or the presence of a GED) before allowing the student to enroll.  There’s no quick-and-easy way to do that for the student who decides after Christmas that it might be a good idea to take a class in January.  We also need to honor all the usual prerequisites, which requires a transcript evaluation; again, that’s easy with enough warning, but it doesn’t work well with the abrupt arrival in January.  Depending on the class, there may be placement tests to administer and grade, adding another level of time and expense.

This seems a bit silly to me.  In my naive mind, a student enrolling on a non-matriculated basis (that is, not pursuing a degree at that college) shouldn’t be required to undergo the same level of scrutiny as a student who is pursuing a degree.  Ashley is home from Northwestern for a few weeks, and wants to try her hand at Intro to Psych at the local cc.  Why do we need to make this difficult?  I can understand if Northwestern chooses not to take the credits -- that’s their call -- but requiring Ashley to show up weeks in advance to get all the testing and paperwork processed for a single class just seems like overkill.

I’m hoping that we’re making this harder than it needs to be, and that there’s actually a reasonable elegant work-around to make it easier to catch the drive-by student.  Wise and worldly readers, have you seen one?  How did it work?

Elegant? We have a category defined specifically for "drive by" students. Call it DB for anonymity. It covers cases like yours and a variety of others (like when a student is dual enrolled from another college) and happens a LOT in the summer. Basically it is a catch all "not a major", so not very elegant.

Transcripts are the hassle, of course, but easier if they arrive electronically. However, we will allow a student to register based on an unofficial transcript (on paper) that is checked for the relevant pre-reqs by overworked staff. I don't know how the back-office side works, like if we need to get the official transcript proving the pre-reqs before releasing our grade and transcript. In any case, the issue for the student is more likely to be whether the course transfers back to Distant U than if they meet your pre-reqs!

Testing can be done the same day they walk in the door, if needed, same as when it is a new student who shows up a day or two before classes start in January.
Re: comp. classes, in college, we had a course, Little Red Schoolhouse, where you wrote a 5-page paper a week for ten weeks. Even for four weeks, I think that could be really helpful. It was taught in massive lecture, with weekly small group tutorial sections with grad students (who I'm guessing also did the grading).
Great post as usual. I am morally required to say this, because ...

To nitpick like a genuine asshole (seriously, this is inexcusable), Northwestern is on the quarter system—there's no such thing as being home from Northwestern for a few weeks at the holidays. They start up before the end of the first week in January.
1. Financial aid issues-Get an LOP. That'll solve the transferring money issues and help the student ensure they'll get credit when they get back.

2. What sort of placement testing are you doing that requires extensive grading? Accuplacer takes the 2 hours to administer but it's on the computer and gives scores instantly.

3. I agree they need to meet pre-req's but unofficial's should suffice for most things. Have them come in and pull up their records on line to verify.
But we’re having some trouble marketing to and enrolling the drive-by student.

let me help.

advertise the classes for what they really are.

Intersession classes available for courses in which you have no interest. These are the courses that are of so little value to your general education that they can be skimmed over, yet you still have to take them so that Universities can justify these departments. Get that boring, gen-ed done in 3 weeks, versus 20 weeks. And do it at 1/3 the cost.

call it like it is, expose the REAL value, and people will sign up.

in college, i took 2 intersession classes at our major State U.

one was post-civil war history. i thought i was going to learn more about WWI and WWII. instead, we spent the entire 3 weeks learning about the NYC real estate market from beginning to end because that was the focus of the PhD research of the guy who taught it (adjunct). real applicable.

the second was a philosophy class over pop culture. we spent 3 weeks watching each Matrix movie, Lord of the Rings, and episodes of South Park (taught by another adjunct). had to write a 1 page paper every night, and a 5 page paper in the end. when my friends and i signed up, we literally thought the course was a joke. in terms of value to my life, and the sanctimony of my degree, it really was...
Offer it as a variation of Auditing the class - grading and homework are as for a regular student, but no prereq, no intrinsic credit. It'll take some work marketing the concept to your accreditors and the schools you usually transfer to, but the back-end premise is that proof of success is a good indicator of potential for success, and the transfer review process will be duplicating much of the pre-registration assessment, etc. For in-house students, the course could be "Transferred in" just as if they had taken it at another school.

There are of course, lots of angles for edge cases to cause snags in the process, but most of those would be judged as above: either the student has demonstrated enough knowledge of the subject to pass the course, or they didn't. If someone is going to seriously advance the argument that proof of ability and mastery is less important when awarding a degree then is proof of potential, you might have an organizational issue with understanding your mission.
Just today I had an advisee offer that he would try to take a gen ed class while "at home" during break at our R-1 school. I assume he means a local CC and that he knows how to make the course transfer properly. From the perspective here, a pre-approval form signed by the corresponding R-1 dept chair is essentially all that is required. They usually look at the remote class syllabus to compare it with a local class.
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