A new bachelor's degree program at Concordia University in Irvine will throw out the usual semester system and start a new class of students any time 25 or more sign up.
The program is geared to students at least 25 years old who have an associate's degree or the equivalent and gives them a bachelor's in education or business within 18 months, with at least half of their instruction coming through the Internet.
This program is one of several the small Lutheran campus has planned to attract students.
Those enrolling in the Adult Accelerated Degree Completion Program will cut six months from the usual upper division load by taking classes throughout the year.
Concordia officials are still working on the curriculum and other details, such as how the classes will be taught. No one has signed up for the program, but recruiting hasn't yet begun.
The first group of students is expected to begin classes in September.
Although classes for students past college age are not unusual, higher education officials around the country could not think of another school that starts a program whenever enough people sign up.
"We haven't found anybody else doing it, which is why we jumped into that niche," said Timothy Peters, director of professional students at Concordia.
The closest anyone could point to is National University, which has 26 campuses throughout the state geared toward working adults. Although National holds monthlong classes, all of them are regularly scheduled.
Concordia's plan "doesn't surprise me because higher education has to become more responsive to the market because of the competition," said Hoyt Smith, National's director of public relations. "These higher-ed institutions are responding to the needs of these working adults."
Concordia has 1,500 students. U.S. News and World Report ranked the university 11th among regional liberal arts colleges in the Western United States.
Accelerated programs have been around for 20 years, said Tim McDonough, director of public affairs for the American Council on Education in Washington. The advantage for students is they get into the work force earlier, and, with less time in school, may pay less, McDonough said.
Students in both the business and education programs at Concordia will share about two-thirds of the courses, mainly in liberal arts. Those aspiring to be teachers will be prepared to enter credential programs.
Business students will receive a broad education that will better prepare them to read, write and think critically, according to Peters.
Concordia officials are looking at different ways to teach the classes. One possibility is to hold classes one weekend a month, while the rest of the classwork takes place online. "You can say to a busy adult, 'Can you give up one weekend a month?' " Peters said.
The accelerated program is one of several Concordia has started since Jacob Preus became president two years ago and the university developed a new strategic plan. Among the new initiatives are programs offering an MBA and a doctorate in education.
In addition, the English-language proficiency program has doubled over the last year. The program, in which foreign students receive a certificate of proficiency to help them enter colleges and the job world, is expected to double its enrollment again this summer to 100.
"Part of the plan is to look for new ventures, new avenues [and] new students," Peters said.