A growing number of colleges, under pressure to improve graduation rates, seek to boost summer enrollments by slashing tuition, expanding course options and offering other perks.
The University of Iowa just announced that this fall's freshman class will be able to take summer classes for free starting in 2014. Dominican University of California, which has cut tuition by 50% over the summer for several years, this year is encouraging its newly admitted students to get a head start on their freshman year. Montclair State University students can save as much as 17% on tuition this summer - and get free parking to boot.
Schools typically stress the cost savings to students. But colleges also increasingly view summer as a way to help students complete their degrees faster. The most recent Education Department data show four-year graduation rates at 54% for public and 64% at private universities.
At the University of Iowa, where the Board of Regents has set a goal to raise the school's 48% four-year graduation rate to 50% by 2016, the tuition break is aimed partly at giving students who change majors a chance to catch up, associate provost Beth Ingram says.
Like Dominican, many private colleges have offered tuition cuts for summer courses for years - to compensate for the lack of financial aid available during the summer and because fewer services are typically available, spokeswoman Sarah Gardner says. Now, the trend is gaining traction at public institutions.
One concern raised on some campuses is whether students will bite. Nationally, recent summer enrollment data aren't available, but individual campuses reports suggest response varies.
Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, a public college that introduced a flat tuition rate for the fall and spring semesters in 2009 and a summer discount in 2010, boosted four-year graduates from 42% to 50% for the classes entering in fall 2007 and 2008, respectively. Enrollments dipped each of the first three years, probably due to a number of factors, provost Harvey Kesselman says. So far this year, registration for summer courses is up 10% over last year, he says.
Students who took advantage of a 25% tuition discount offered last summer by Indiana University's seven campuses saved a combined $11.8 million, spokesman Ryan Piurek says. Nearly 30,000 sudents enrolled, up 3% from the previous year.
At Montclair State, an increase in online summer offerings and a more robust marketing campaign have been pushing enrollments up, though they flattened last year, after Congress eliminated a short-lived summer Pell Grant for low-income students, says associate dean Jamieson Bilella, who also president of the North American Association of Summer Sessions. He says the first step is changing the once-common perception, especially among parents, that summer school was for students who had failed a course.
"It used to be a stigma, that, 'Oh, you're going to summer school.'" Bilella says. But it has become "a very viable and palatable option for students."
Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY