University Council Meeting Minutes: October 7, 2014

University Council Notes: Tuesday, October 7, 2014

President Royce Engstrom and Provost Perry Brown, presented “A conversation about the academic calendar: winter and summer sessions.”

Engstrom opened the meeting with two questions:

  • What do we want to do for winter/summer sessions?
  • Are they running the way we want?

As part of a brief background, Engstrom noted: Many parents and students have complained that the six-week winter session is too long of a break. At the same time, others approve of winter session. More than 2,000 students have taken advantage of the courses that are offered.

Engstrom also discussed the challenges of summer session. Because of changes in federal government policy, Pell Grants are no longer available during the summer, which has affected many UM students. Winter and summer session enrollments, measured in headcount and FTE, are down in the past five years.

Brown pointed out that winter session doesn’t provide revenue, yet UM continues to absorb the expense. He said the University needs to revitalize summer sessions.

Kent McGowan, director of financial aid, spoke about how student financial aid is mostly used up during the spring and fall sessions, and students are forced to seek alternative loans in order to fund summer session. This ultimately has decreased the enrollment numbers for summer session.

Roger MacLean, dean of the School of Extended & Lifelong Learning, said he thinks 95 percent of winter session courses are repetitive of what is offered in spring and fall. He feels that winter session should be an opportunity to create new courses. He also suggested moving more summer session classes online and dedicating a marketing budget to promote summer and winter sessions.

Environmental Studies Professor Dan Spencer said his study abroad program has benefited from the length of the winter session. He takes students to Vietnam for four weeks to study climate change. He did state that it has been a continuous challenge to fund this program.

Mike Reid, Vice President or Administration & Finance, made a point of how winter session could be more beneficial to the University if more students took more credits at that time. Reid stated that by completing credits in the winter, and then a 15-credit load in the spring, students could see faster graduation rates without their costs going up because of the “flat spot.” He suggested pushing to show students the value of this. If winter session is decreased or eliminated, additional classes may need to be offered in spring/fall, which would increase expenses, he said. Space issues also may arise.

An audience member suggested considering a “May-mester.” One idea: move two weeks from winter session to May, after graduation. Instead of two five-week summer sessions, UM could have three four-week sessions.

Mark LoParco, director of UM Dining, commented that the financial landscape is very different, and we have to be more attentive. Students also are concerned about how late they are getting out in May. They find it hard to compete for a summer job. He suggested shortening winter session to resolve this issue.

Steve Lodmell, chair of the Faculty Senate, noted that having UM’s spring break match MCPS’s calendar maintains quality of life for families. If UM changes its semesters, they need to coordinate with MCPS.

It was pointed out that for science faculty members, winter session is valuable because many of their grant deadlines are in January.

There was a consensus among the audience that UM needed a marketing plan, for winter session.

Regarding impacts on other university services: the University Center is busy with conferences in the summer, but is fairly empty during winter session. For Curry Health Center, winter session is revenue-neutral. Students who work for Campus Recreation come back during winter session and are bored because there’s not enough for them to do.

Brown said there is no fixed timeline for taking any action on winter or summer sessions. The University is seeking input from all sectors of UM.

Engstrom concluded by stating that they will continue with fact-finding, will look into better marketing practices and seek to answer the question if a change even needs to be made for winter/summer sessions. Because the calendar is set far in advance, and faculty and staff also plan events, classes and other activities far in advance, no change is imminent.