Summer courses almost offer what students need

by Mike Heral

I ask for advice less than I ask for directions—and I never ask for directions. I’ll walk holes into Home Depot’s floor before asking a worker where I can find flush valves. However, I’m deeply regretting not asking for advice before registering for San Diego State’s summer session. If I had, I may have learned funneling a full semester’s worth of material into six weeks is ridiculous. Students should be given a full 10-week summer session.

I viewed summer session as a way to keep on track to graduate in May 2014, especially because this is how SDSU advertises summer offerings. I also thought the split six-week sessions, coupled with SDSU capping tuition and fees at six semester hours, provided an excellent chance to double up on courses. I planned to take 12 semester hours during the first session and another 12 semester hours during the second. To me, that was like paying for two classes and getting four for free.

Luckily, I talked myself out of that plan.

I was lucky because I didn’t foresee the severity of the six-week session. I chuckled when my Chemistry 100 professor said she expected 15 hours of extra work each week. By now, I’m used to professors warning students about allegedly demanding workloads, but those warnings rarely come true.

However, that was also when I had the luxury of a full semester where homework is spread out during 16 weeks and I can budget my time accordingly. It’s not true when classes are shrunk to six, eight, or even 10 weeks. So, the first thing I learned about summer session is that I couldn’t coast. Homework is due every day.

This brings the second lesson: Skipping classes is not an option. To understand why, consider this:

I’m taking five classes this summer. In only one of those classes did the professor admit to shrinking the syllabus. Three classes are Internet courses, and the remaining two each meet four times per week. For each, there are 24 classroom meetings. A normal 16-week semester with three classes per week has 48 classes, meaning each six-week class is the equivalent of two regular semester’s classes.

Therefore, if a student misses one class, he or she actually missed the equivalent of two classes. Miss two, and the student has now missed four classes. It takes more dedication to succeed in the summer than it does during a normal semester.

This leads to the third problem for summer students. Traditionally, summer is when students get jobs. Students unaware of how a truncated schedule works may find themselves struggling to balance the demands of a course requiring 15 hours of off-class work per week with the demands of an employer. Or, as one of my professors said, “This class is a summer job.”

SDSU does offer a limited amount of 10-week summer session courses. Only four out of 95 general education summer session courses are 10 weeks long and another four courses are eight weeks long. If a student wants a summer session course, the odds are 11:1 it’ll be a six-week course.

The fourth problem is summer session courses might not keep students on track to graduate. Again, the problem is a schedule that’s simply too short. For example, I need three foreign language courses and I intended to take my first this summer. This plan evaporated when my professor said six weeks wasn’t enough time to prepare us for the next course if we didn’t already know at least a little of the language we were supposed to be learning. My readers know I barely grasp English, much less another language.

SDSU wants students enjoying their summer. Theoretically, six-week courses are offered precisely to give students a chance to salvage some of their vacation time. However, if a student wants to stay on track they can’t worry about free time. And older students such as myself just want to see our diplomas while we are still employable or before we die, whichever comes first.

It’s also odd that a six-week course receives full credit. Anyone transferring from an institution using the quarter system knows credits don’t transfer in full to semester system institutions. It’s perplexing when an eight-week quarter system class doesn’t transfer in full because an institution doesn’t believe the student learned as much as they would on a semester system. Meanwhile, the same institution allows full credit for a class lasting only six weeks.

Therefore, SDSU would serve students better by offering more 10-week courses. Students would still get one week of vacation on each side of the session.

Take it from a guy who is better at giving advice than receiving it: next summer, apply suntan lotion liberally but take summer classes conservatively.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email