Summer Sessions: Marketing Strategies for Small Colleges

Article excerpt

Increases in summer session enrollment at colleges and universities are common announcements in the media (Dainow 2001; Young 2003). The growth trend is according to institutional design: Summer sessions provide opportunity for students to complete their programs of study in a timely fashion, for faculty to supplement their annual income, and for colleges to increase their enrollment and revenue. This is equally true for large state-supported universities and for smaller institutions.

In order to increase summer enrollment, some institutions offer incentives. For example, the University of New Mexico offered a 15 percent discount on tuition and fees for the summer 2006 session (Uytterbrouck 2006). Lacking the resources, reputation, and size advantage of public, doctoral degreegranting universities, smaller private institutions face a greater challenge as they seek to make summer sessions a net revenue center of operation. (In this article, "small private colleges" enroll fewer than 1,500 students, have minimally competitive admissions practices, and have little to no endowment.)

A case study of one small private college found a significant increase in summer enrollment when several key changes in the summer session's design were implemented. This article describes summer enrollment challenges at small colleges as well as key factors for success as identified in the case study.

Challenges to Small Colleges

Small private colleges often are at an enrollment disadvantage because of their higher tuition, fewer resources and program offerings, and lack of economy of scale. Students must be attracted to the colleges according to the promise of more personalized attention of faculty and staff as well as the sense of community. However, certain factors unique to small colleges put them at a significant disadvantage when it comes to enrollment in summer sessions.

Faculty Perspective

Scott (1995) found that faculty perceive a lessening of academic rigor in summer sessions as a result of sacrificing course content and breadth. Moreover, reduced contact hours or days between class meetings may lessen the amount of time available to students to fully comprehend course material. Crowe, Hyun, and Kretovics (2005) identified the primary concern as maintaining academic rigor in summer session courses adapted from traditional semester-long courses. Note that studies show that students learn as much or more in summer sessions as during the fall and spring semesters (Daniel 2000). It is unclear whether this is the result of the types of courses offered in summer sessions or of the motivation of the students who enroll in them.

Faculty who teach summer courses may not be focused exclusively on pedagogy. According to Doane and Pusser (2005), assistant professors at public, doctoral degree-granting institutions can expect to earn five to seven thousand dollars per summer course taught; for full professors, this amount increases to between eight and ten thousand dollars. In contrast, faculty at small private colleges can expect to earn just two thousand dollars per summer course taught, regardless of rank. A small private college faculty member who teaches eight courses over eight months (two semesters) for an annual salary of $45,000 earns $5,625 per month; offering the same instructor $630 per credit hour to teach one course for one month is equivalent to a monthly salary of $1,890, only one-third of the regular compensation. Committee work and student advising are greatly reduced in the summer, but who can blame faculty members for pursuing other endeavors deemed more worthy of their time? Insufficient numbers of faculty willing to teach summer courses thus can be a significant problem for small private colleges.

Larger institutions have a significantly larger pool of instructors from which to draw for summer sessions. Small institutions - particularly those in rural areas - may not have access to qualified instructors beyond their full-time faculty. …