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SPRING 1999-00
Volume 43, Number 3


Study in Summer? Almost 12,000 Students Say "Yes"

Listening to Students: President Coleman Finds Them 'Invigorating'

First and Foremost: Ten Standouts Launch Program That Gives High School Seniors an Early Start on College

Your Tuition Payment: Building Our Students' Future

Financial Aid: The Buffer Zone Between Students and Higher Education Costs

Investing in Your Student's Future

Accents: Problem or Opportunity to Learn?

A Challenge From Frank

Parent Times Briefs

University Calendar

I t’s spring, and a young person’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of...well, that too, but what we had in mind was summer school.

Almost 12,000 Iowa students stay on campus each summer to take courses that vary from three weeks to six or eight weeks in duration. These courses can supplement major courses, fulfill special interests, or make it possible to stay on track for graduation in four years.

For four years, The University of Iowa has offered the three different sessions with different goals for the student.

Three-Week Intensive Courses

The three-week session begins immediately after the close of examination week in the spring. In 14 intensive days (the 15th day would be Memorial Day), students attend class for 2 1/2 hours a day every day and work at home extensively.

"It’s fairly demanding," says Douglas Lee, associate director of administration in the Office of the Provost. "Students can’t let work slide because they couldn’t catch up. Every day equals a week in normal schedules."

Brooks Landon, professor and head of the English Department, says the three-week intensive courses work well with some subjects but not well at all for others. "It wouldn’t work if you wanted to teach a survey course on the novel, because it’s not reasonable to ask students to read a whole novel every night after 2 1/2 hours in class. But they can read seven to eight short stories a night, so in a three-week period, starting at a blistering pace and keeping it up for 14 days, you can cover 100 short stories.

"In a 16-week course, if you were reading that number of short stories, toward the end it would be hard to remember numbers 5-10, for example," Landon says. "But in a three-week course, you read them just four or five days ago, so it’s much easier to carry the content with you and use it to contextualize the stories you’re reading now.

"On the downside," Landon adds, "at the end of the three weeks I am exhausted and the students are exhausted. Talking for 2 1/2 hours a day, even in conversation, means that my voice is gone in the third week. And God help you if you get sick! I tell the students that they simply cannot miss a class in a three-week course."

Evaluations of his three-week courses have convinced Landon that they’re worthwhile. Students say they do better in three-week courses because they’re able to focus only on one course. "The courses have the intensity of a 100-yard dash, rather than the pace of a marathon," he says.

Patricia Van Rollins, a senior English major with a classics minor, took the popular Quest for Human Destiny course in a three-week session. "I chose Quest because Professor Jay Holstein was teaching. I have had other classes taught by him and find him to be an excellent teacher. This class was a treat to myself after a rough semester. I would not take a class I didn’t like in the summer semester, unless it was a necessity."

Lee says the University wanted to provide more flexibility for both students and faculty when it instituted the three-week session four years ago.

"Many students have to work in the summer to finance part of their education," he says. "This year’s three-week session starts May 15 and ends June 2, so they still have 10 weeks to earn money or complete an internship before the fall semester begins."

Six-Week: A Solution for Teachers

The six-week summer session, which begins 18 days after the three-week session closes, was designed to accommodate K-12 teachers coming to the College of Education for course work. Summer sessions that begin in May or early June won’t work for them if their school has had snow days or other schedule delays because they’d still be teaching when classes began.

While it started as a solution for teachers, six-week courses now exist in all undergraduate colleges: liberal arts, business, engineering, and nursing.

Eight-Week Is Most Popular

The eight-week session, Iowa’s traditional summer school, begins in early June, two days after the three-week session ends. "It’s still where we have the most classes and the most students," Lee says.

Even the eight-week class is compressed, compared with 16-week sessions during the school year. "I loved having class every day," says April Kopps, a double major in biology and music performance (saxophone), who took a required Principles of Chemistry course with a lab session last summer. "I also enjoyed getting to know the professor better in a smaller class. He seemed more comfortable, too. The class seemed to be geared toward making students learn, as opposed to lecturing over the material to anyone sitting there. It was more personal. I loved it."

Kopps says she hasn’t taken a three-week course. "It would be really scary," she says. "In some ways it would be less of a learning process and more short-term retention."

She is considering taking more summer courses because they’ll be necessary in order to graduate within five years. "However, the summer is also a perfect opportunity for internships–which is what I’m doing this summer," she adds.

Michael Wolfe, a junior in linguistics/anthropology, is a veteran of summer courses at Des Moines Area Community College, which he attended before he transferred to Iowa this semester. He’s planning a summer course this year because he works part-time and participates in extra-curricular activities, so summer school allows him to keep his academic career on track without overloading his schedule during the rest of the year.

He’ll be taking foreign language courses this summer in order to retain what he has learned over the past year. "A three-month break could be a bane to second language acquisition," Wolfe says.

Scott Therkelsen, a second-year mechanical engineering student from Cedar Rapids, enrolled in a challenging engineering course last summer. "The experience is different from taking the course during the school year," he says. "I worried that I would not be able to focus enough on it with other things going on in the fall. Sure, it was more intense, but I had fewer things to worry about outside of class. That made the whole experience more relaxing than a regular semester."

Therkelsen says he’d consider a three-week course, but only for a 1- or 2-semester-hour course that would be "too pesky for a full semester".

"I think a three-hour class in three weeks is pretty risky, though," he says.

Last summer, 11,773 students attended one of the three summer sessions. Attendance has increased every year since 1995, and Lee won’t be surprised if it’s over 12,000 this summer.

And why is summer session relevant to parents? Lee says there are several reasons:

  • Summer session is a great way to speed up time to degree. Lee’s records show that four-year graduation rates for students who have attended summer sessions to be about 42 percent while those who haven’t attended summer school come in around 20 percent. Five-year graduation rates for summer participants is 73 percent compared to about 35 percent for students who haven’t attended.

  • Out-of-state students can take up to four hours of courses in a summer term and pay only the resident tuition. The University’s tuition payment scale does not differentiate between resident and non-resident tuition until a student takes more than four hours of courses.

  • The University has a number of intensive foreign language courses in the summer. A student can complete up to one year’s requirement.

  • The Office of Study Abroad has agreements with universities in other countries that allow students to take courses abroad in a wide variety of fields for the same as, or just a little more than, the tuition and living costs the student would pay at Iowa.

  • Class sizes typically are smaller in the summer, so students can receive more individual attention in a course that might be difficult for them.

Kim Pederson, a biology major who took two chemistry classes in one summer period, says she learned a lot about time management while getting through an extremely stressful time.

"Apart from the actual learning process, the classes are smaller and you get much personal attention," she says. "This gives students a better opportunity to meet professors who may be helpful in building résumés in the future.

"I also met a lot of people in my classes who I still keep in contact with. I think that taking summer classes puts you in an environment where people have the same desire to learn and are very serious students, which gave me the opportunity to meet people similar to myself."

While there are strong academic reasons to go to summer school, we’d better not neglect another major motivator. Summer in Iowa City is fun, with festivals, bands playing on street corners, lots of opportunities for outdoor sports and recreation, and both professors and students in T-shirts and shorts.

—By Anne Tanner

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