Academic journal article College and University

Providing Affordable Access to Higher Education through Year-Round Operation: A Case Study in Public Higher Education

Academic journal article College and University

Providing Affordable Access to Higher Education through Year-Round Operation: A Case Study in Public Higher Education

Article excerpt

The public higher education landscape in the United States has changed significantly over the past several decades. The most widely publicized change has been the steadily decreasing percentage of operating revenues from state support. This issue has been thrust into public view by states' assaults in recent years on public university budgets. Current economic conditions have brought state budgetary issues concerning education funding to the crisis stage, though public universities have been facing reductions in the percentage of funding from their states for some time. By now it is well known that state spending on corrections, entitlement programs, and state employee pension funds is diminishing its ability to support public higher and K-12 education (Tandberg 2010).

The second change has been the increasing demand for access to public higher education. Altbach, Reisberg and Rumbley (2009) report an enrollment increase from 2000 to 2007 of more than 50 million students globally in the eighteen to 24-year-old cohort. High school graduates, their parents, and nontraditional workers increasingly perceive a higher education degree as a ticket to success. Employment statistics bear this out: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in June 2012 that the group including bachelor's and higher degree holders had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.1 percent compared to an overall civilian labor force unemployment rate of 12.5 percent (U.S. Dept, of Labor 2013). Yet increasing demand for access and increasing operating costs have caused the average tuition at private and public higher education institutions to increase faster than the average inflation rate (Archibald and Feldman 2010).

At a time when demand for access to higher education is at an all-time high, some regions are experiencing absolute decreases in population as well as demographic shifts in birth rates that negatively affect enrollment (Tucker 2012). In addition, many states are reducing their level of support for higher education, with the result that tuition increases have become one of the only means left for balancing budgets. In many states where tuition rates are controlled by state legislatures, universities are increasingly pressed to match annual revenues with expenditures. Many institutions are seeking to raise revenues and cut costs where they can.

The purpose of this article is to examine the potential for public universities to utilize year-round operations for revenue generation and cost containment by increasing the number of courses offered during summer and winter sessions and thereby increasing overall enrollment. Two factors have inspired the increase in time-compressed courses: (1) the ability to develop online versions of existing courses in order to improve access and (2) the identification of practical ways to support classes with low enrollment so more courses can be made available. This analysis is supported by a case study of Slippery Rock University (sru) of Pennsylvania's movement toward yearround operation. SRU is one of fourteen state-owned institutions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Together, they make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (passhe). PASSHE is the tenth largest university system in the United States and the 43rd largest in the world, with a system-wide enrollment in 2010 of nearly 120,000 students (passhe 2011).

INNOVATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Because funding increases have become increasingly problematic, some institutions have found innovative ways to produce more graduates without increasing their net costs. One of the more interesting approaches is at Brigham Young University-Idaho (BYU-Idaho), where a complete third (summer) semester was added to the traditional two-semester plus summer school model. Administrators enroll the same number of students in all three semesters. Faculty are compensated for the increased teaching load, but other added expenses are minimal. …

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