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Winter is the time to look at summer classes

December 1, 2011

By Howard Primer

Hang out in a lounge area during the spring, and it likely won’t be long before you overhear a student talking about how a summer class was canceled, throwing off plans and delaying graduation.

“It’s infuriating. It’s happened to me,” said Alex Butler, a student member of the Cleveland State Board of Trustees. “You can go from an aggressive summer schedule to something that isn’t happening.”

Even though the first snow of winter has just fallen, CSU officials are advising students to be proactive about summer scheduling so they know what classes will be in demand.

“As students, we have a surprisingly considerable amount of power in what’s offered and if they go through with them,” Butler said. “If you really want to see it go through, you need to make your needs known to your department.”

Administrators say communication of those needs is one of their biggest obstacles. Vice President for Enrollment Services Carmen Brown and College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Associate Dean Joyce Mastboom both want increased student input.

“Our job is to communicate with students at the right time so they can anticipate their registration goals,” Brown said.

Mastboom said that time is now.

“I highly encourage students to begin enrolling early,” she said. The 2012 summer schedule will be available on Dec. 5.

Many students won’t know if they will be able to take classes until right before the summer semester begins because of job opportunities or other circumstances, which makes the puzzle difficult to put together.

Besides student demand, other factors include costs and faculty availability for upper-level courses. The CLASS guideline calls for a minimum of 15 students in 300-400 level classes, and 20 in lower-level courses.

The main cost variable is the instructor’s salary. Lecturers make less than faculty, but that doesn’t mean a class taught by a lecturer will have a lower minimum enrollment. The monetary difference from a lecturer-taught class could be used to keep another class from being canceled.

Mastboom works with school and department chairs to offer classes that are likely to be highly enrolled, which means the schedule will not be able to meet all students’ needs.
“We can’t offer everything,” Mastboom said. “If you’re looking to finish, summer is not the time to take the capstone seminar.”

If students tell their advisers what they want to take far enough in advance, departments can consider adding those courses. Brown said Enrollment Services is working on fixing glitches in the degree audit, offering multi-term scheduling and adding a waiting-list process.

This issue is important to the Student Success Committee, which is charged with improving CSU’s graduation rate. Only 11 percent of freshman entering in fall 2006 graduated in four years, and 30 percent of freshmen who entered in fall 2004 finished their degrees in six years.

“If you take the curriculum over four years, you’re going to have to take a summer class,” Brown said. “You’re going to have to have those classes. We’re really looking at summer.”

Despite budget cuts that have made administrators count pennies when deciding what classes to hold or cut, summer enrollment is up. Credit hours topped 49,000 in each of the past two summers, compared with about 47,000 in 2008 and ’09 (see chart).

Provost Geoffrey S. Mearns said colleges will have an incentive to maintain the trend. Using the average number of credit hours taken in the past five summers, colleges will retain 50 percent of the revenue they generate above that baseline beginning in summer 2012.

Mastboom said CLASS is working on ways to take advantage, starting with improving communication about what students need. Canceling a class is the part of the job administrators want little to do with.

“It’s the worst thing,” Mastboom said.