Despite costs, NAU summer term a viable option for university and students
By: Rolando Garcia
NAU faculty and staff are focused on providing students enrolled in summer courses a complete, more immersed university experience, and the opportunity to graduate more rapidly–high costs and restricted class availability present obstacles.
The university has said higher costs are a consequence of a lack of state funding between the months of May and August, and thorough research has been conducted to offer more required courses for graduation and increase the number of classes offered online.
Karen Pugliesi, the Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, said the classes available are intended to help students progress in their academic plans.
Students will be better able to satisfy major and liberal studies requirements. “The thing that our colleges do is look at past enrollment data to understand what sort of courses students want to take, and also what modality students prefer,” Pugliesi said.
As an alternative for students leaving Flagstaff for the summer, NAU has adapted by providing more online courses.
“When possible, we have actually shifted to offering many of our courses online so students can do that while at home,” Pugliesi said.
Pugliesi said an additional thing to consider about class availability is colleges run on revenue.
“We can’t offer all of our courses; most of them wouldn’t enroll sufficiently for us to go forward,” Pugliesi said, “and we have to make it work in a business way.” The school does not receive state funding for summer terms, and the university has to pay faculty and provide library services, academic support services, health services and advising.
Pauline Entin, the associate dean for academic affairs for the College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences, said she believes there is a correlation between what is beneficial to students and economic viability.
“Economically viable just means, as a rule of thumb, about a dozen students,” Entin said.
Entin cited an instance when she taught a course with four students. The class produced neither enough revenue for the university nor an excellent learning environment.
“It’s difficult if you want to have conversation; if you want to do a group project, you have one group,” she said.
After the university has determined what range of courses are economically viable and helpful in advancing a student’s academic progress, each college and their respective professors have a say in what they would like to teach. “We tend to be given the opportunity to choose the classes that we want to teach in the summer from a range,” Associate Professor of philosophy Julie Piering said. She currently teaches PHI 105, Introduction to Ethics, and is grateful for the opportunity the summer term provides to teach outside of her normal rotation.
Kamran Sheikh, an electrical engineering major who just completed his fifth year of higher education said he is taking summer courses to satisfy liberal studies requirements.
“I want to get it done, so that way my load is lighter so I can take upper-division courses next semester, do a research project and hopefully publish a paper,” Sheikh said.
Hamad Alrushaid, a junior who is double majoring in marketing and finance, said he is taking summer courses to finish his degree quickly. Alrushaid is an international student and wants to return home as soon as possible.
However, not all students are as quick as Sheikh and Alrushaid to enroll in summer courses. Jessie Gould, a junior English major, and Kelli Lorenz, a senior comparative cultural studies major with an emphasis in religious studies both opted out of the summer term.
“It’s money that I don’t really want to spend when I can be getting the classes I need from the regular term. I can just keep cramming classes into the regular term and save money,” Gould said. She usually enrolls in 17 to 18 credit hours per semester.
Lorenz is more concerned about the quality of education she would receive from summer courses.
“You’re not getting the same attention or the same amount of time to study; I don’t think it’s as beneficial,” Lorenz said.
In order for summer courses to completely cover their curriculum, professors must teach at a very fast pace. “Students are moving in this three-week section at a week a day: each day is three hours of class time,” said Piering.
Entin and Piering said professors are able to teach the content just as effectively as they do during the fall or spring semesters.
“My guess would be the summer teaching is just as effective. It also comes down to strategy: some students really like being able to focus on just one class at a time,” Entin said.
Sheikh described his experience as “quicker, faster-paced and straight to the point — there is no bologna in between.” Alrushaid said, “I like focusing on one class; it is easier in the summer because you can focus on one subject.”
Piering said she believes the summer term may actually prove more effective for students.
“There is not that sense of exhaustion that can hit students at the end of the fall or spring semesters; the last stuff you assign is very quickly read, they have to do a calculation,” Piering said. Students calculate their options and often choose to sacrifice new readings or smaller assignments in order to turn in an essay or a project worth many points.
“You don’t have that problem in summer; they are focusing intensively on this: there is a great benefit to that. The content, by distilling it, is all the more clearly understood and appreciated; however, other ideas just take time—they take time to sit with us,” Piering said.