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?