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Summer Sessions Growing at Colleges

Education: Weak job market, lower fees and more classes are cited for the higher enrollment.


Enrollments in college summer sessions are up markedly at many California campuses this year, the apparent result of a weak seasonal job market, lower fees and a greater array of classes on campus.

Higher enrollments from UC Berkeley to San Diego State are part of a growing national trend toward greater summer session attendance, several college officials said. The figures also reflect a cultural shift as American colleges and universities move toward year-round operations, a far cry from the sleepy summer campuses of years past.

"Summer is increasingly seen as just another period of time on the academic calendar," said Barmak Nassirian of the American Assn. of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington, D.C. "It can be put to very good use academically."

In California, state subsidies initiated in 2001 have substantially reduced the cost of attending summer school at University of California and California State University campuses. It is part of a statewide effort to cope with a decade-long enrollment surge as children of baby boomers head to college.

Instead of building hundreds of new classrooms, officials say, the idea is to make better use of existing facilities year-round, and encourage students to speed their progress toward graduation.

For UC and Cal State students, the subsidies mean that the basic cost of taking summer classes, once significantly higher than during the rest of the year, is now roughly the same. Visiting and out-of-state students still pay more. Financial aid is also more readily available now to summer students.

In addition, some campuses, including UCLA, UC Berkeley and most Cal States, have received extra funding from the Legislature to offer a broader array of summer classes.

Across California, students have responded to the incentives, fueling a second straight year of fast growth. At campuses that already have taken a count of summer sign-ups, substantial increases are almost universal this year. For the UC system's undergraduate summer programs, estimated enrollment increases range from 12% to 38%.

At UC Berkeley, where the first of several summer sessions started May 28, student Katrina Kerr says going to school now will allow her to complete a course required for her American Studies major. In the past, such courses often were not available during the summer.

"The classes are smaller and more focused, and you get to know the professors better," Kerr said. She said she also likes the less-crowded campus.

But that might change, as more and more college students see the season as a time to study.

"The state subsidies are working," said Gary Penders, director of UC Berkeley's summer sessions, where enrollment is expected to be 15% above last year. "Students understand that it's a good deal and a good idea."

Penders said students--and their parents--also may be influenced by fears of a possible fee increase, although none is on the immediate horizon. Given the California budget crisis, he speculated, some students are trying to race through college to avoid the risk of fees rising, as they did in the early 1990s.

He and others also said the soft summer job market appears to be pushing many students toward summer classes.

"When there aren't a lot of part-time jobs around, people come back to school or stay in school--even in the summer," said David Unruh, Penders' counterpart at UCLA. The Westwood campus is also expecting at least 15% more students this summer than last.

California community colleges did not receive extra funding from the state for summer programs, spokeswoman Kirsten Macintyre said. Even so, several campuses are reporting increased interest in summer sessions.

At the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District, officials said early summer school sign-ups appear to be running ahead of last year.

But Chancellor Marshall "Mark" Drummond said the district will hold its enrollment to roughly the same total as last year, when it had more than 54,000 students in its regular programs, by cutting back classes.

He said those cuts will be made to deal with a continuing budget squeeze that has left the district without state funding for roughly 20,000 of its students this coming school year.

"This summer, anyone who is coming better sign up early because if they wait until the last minute, they're likely to find no classes available or classes filled," Drummond said. "We're in a cost pinch."

In the California State University system, summer enrollment soared last year--rising about 40% from the level in 2000, to about 85,000--after the increased state funding allowed campuses to step up offerings and cut student fees.

This year, the 22-campus system expects a more moderate increase, spokeswoman Colleen Bentley-Adler said.

"There's more of an incentive now to go in the summer," Bentley-Adler said. The classes "are just as cheap as they were in spring and fall, and they're usually smaller classes. You can get your general ed requirements out of the way."

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