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Enrollment rises 40% in second-annual Winter Session

Winter Session enrollment grew 40 percent in 2006, rising to 425 students in the program’s second year.

“We did surpass all of our targets in terms of financial and enrollment goals,” said Thomas Kowalik, director of Continuing Education & Outreach. Last year’s successful pilot program provided an effective springboard, he said.

There were 11 traditional courses and 10 distance education courses as well as four sections of independent study and two sections of internships, said Murnal Abate, assistant director for summer and winter sessions. Eighty-three percent of available seats were filled.

Winter Session poses some special challenges for faculty and students, said Abate, who taught an economics course titled Poverty and Discrimination.

Classes meet for three hours a day, five days a week for three weeks.

Distance education courses don’t adhere to that specific schedule in terms of meeting times, but students still have to absorb a lot of material in a short period.

Many find that their usual lecture and study habits don’t fit the compressed schedule, Abate said.

“One class in Winter Session is the equivalent of one week in a traditional semester,” he said. “There’s a tremendous amount of time students have to spend reading and doing homework.” Abate said his distance education course was quite intense, with a lot of e-mail flying back and forth from his 45 students.

“A distance education instructor has to work harder to communicate effectively with the entire class,” he said.

The 10 distance education courses offered this year enrolled 221 students, and Kowalik and Abate envision that number growing as the percentage of online courses grows in future Winter Sessions. They said Winter Session may lead to changes in Summer Session offerings as departments see the value of tailoring their offerings to fit students’ needs.

Abate compared compiling the course listings to managing a financial portfolio. A strategic mix of interesting electives and classes that fit requirements makes the most sense, he said. “Forging a closer partnership with departments is key,” Abate said.

The English Department, led by Chair Susan Strehle, has already figured out how to capitalize on Winter Session, he noted.

“We turn to her because she has been so progressive in this partnership,” Kowalik said. Strehle said the department is always mindful of what students need to fulfill requirements as well as what will be popular. Last year’s Winter Session was a tremendous success for students and faculty members in her department, she said, so people were eager to participate again.

“People said they were some of the most rewarding classes they had ever participated in,” Strehle said. “The learning was dramatically stronger than what happens in a normal class.” She said she doesn’t think English is any more or less suited than other subjects to an intensive course like those offered during Winter Session. In fact, it can be a challenge to tackle a lot of reading and writing in a compressed period because both activities are so time-intensive.

Abate and Kowalik said they believe almost any subject could be adapted for a Winter Session course.

“I think we can continue to grow Winter Session,” Abate said. “I would like to see it bigger and better.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08