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Sunday, June 9,2013

OU summer enrollment sees steady growth

By David DeWitt

Summer enrollment at Ohio University has seen steady growth over the past several years, though the switch from quarters to semesters had a one-year bump that officials say was experienced by most institutions that underwent that change.

Preliminary figures for this year from the university show a slight decrease from last year, but these numbers still have time to change.

Craig Cornell, vice provost for enrollment management, explained Friday that with the two summer sessions the university still doesn't have a final count on the second.

"Summer is a very unique term because it's composed of a summer one and a summer two," he said. "So (these are) preliminary numbers, which would be a pretty solid number for summer one."

Summer session one runs from May 13 until June 29, he said, but some students only take the summer two session and some students who are in the first summer session don't come back for the second, while others do both. The second summer session doesn't begin until July 1, he said.

"When you look at our overall numbers we are up on the Athens campus for (graduate students) and (undergraduate students) by about 1 percent at this point in time," he said, cautioning that the comparison at this point is only really the first session whereas previous-year numbers represent the full summer sessions.

"Summer two is kind of like it's own whole new start," he said. "It won't be a huge difference because most students, if they come in the first they come in the second. I don't think we'll see too significant of a shift and we'll likely only gain in numbers from this point forward."

Cornell acknowledged that there has been some steady growth in the summer session number over the last six years, adding that the session gives students some advantages in advancing their coursework.

"Summer programs and especially online programs are becoming other options for students," he said. "It's been a very steady growth over the past several years. E-learning has grown pretty steady here because e-learning students generally work and they're more comfortable taking summer classes."

A lot of online programs, he said, are bachelor's degree completion programs for students who need to finish up and may already have an associate's degree.

"They're usually working adults," he said. "So it's been a healthy growth over the years, but it's a controlled growth, especially on the Athens campus."

Ohio University is in the process of discussions that could lead to a guaranteed tuition model that would lock in a price range for students.

Adoption of such a model will require the Ohio Legislature to pass enabling legislation; it also will require approval by the Ohio Board of Regents before being approved by the trustees of any public university that wants to use this approach.

Cornell said that as the proposal hasn't yet gone through this process it's difficult to predict how it might impact summer enrollment.

"It's definitely something we'll look at," he said. "The guaranteed tuition is up to a certain amount of credit hours and we're still working through the details of that and go through the (state) approval process, so it's kind of early to say how that will play out."

He said preliminary conversations have suggested that the guaranteed tuition may be based on a certain number of credit hours and not necessarily a specific time-frame for degree completion.

"In that sense I don't think that would push students to complete classes sooner, but it's still too early," he said. "We're still conceptualizing it and talking about it at this point."

As for hitting target goals, Cornell said the university has wanted a steady but controlled growth and is seeing that.

"We have been down in overall enrollments at the Athens campus not counting e-learning over this past year," he said. "Mostly that's because there was such a significant number of students graduating last year right before we switched from quarters to semesters."

He said the university anticipated that and it's a pattern that was experienced by other institutions in the state making that switch.

He said that the quarters to semesters switch has impacted the summer sessions in that they started much earlier than usual this year.

"What we saw last year was a very large growth in our overall students graduating," he said. "I don't have preliminary numbers for this year's graduation but I doubt it will be as severe."

Cornell explained that a lot of students loaded up on their hours the past couple years knowing that the university was converting to semesters in order to graduate before that transition took place.

"Actually, every other school we heard about saw the same scenario," he said. "In the research it was a common thing you see at institutions when you do that and we saw it as well as the others. So we kind of anticipated it."

Cornell reiterated that he is anticipating continued growth "at a comfortable clip."


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