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News Clips 02/26/2013
For Some at U. of Florida, Spring and Summer Are the New Academic Year
Source: Chroncile of Higher Education, 02/18/13
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By Eric Hoover
When Natalia Tamayo learned last winter that she had been accepted to the University of Florida, she sat in her car and cried. She could not enroll for almost a year, the university had informed her, and she could never attend a fall course on the campus.
By checking a box on her application, Ms. Tamayo had indicated her willingness to take this unconventional path, but she had not thought through the consequences. She would miss move-in day, football games, everything. "I panicked," she says. "I thought, 'This isn't fair.'"
Because Florida was Ms. Tamayo's first choice, she soon made peace with the plan. She's now one of 300 freshmen participating in an enrollment experiment designed to increase access to the university.
Students in this cohort, which matriculated last month, can take classes only during the spring and summer semesters for as long as they are enrolled. Each year they will get a four-month break—the fall semester—when they can take online courses, study abroad, or do internships. Some may opt to work. Despite their schedules, the students are full-fledged undergraduates—not second-class citizens—a point the university has emphasized on and off the campus.
At a time when colleges are rethinking their offerings, Florida's move represents a reinvention of the academic calendar. The idea was inspired by growing demand and a dwindling supply of seats.
A few years ago, deep cuts in state appropriations prompted the university's leaders to shrink undergraduate enrollment. Although they were wary of limiting access further, they knew the campus was at capacity—at least during the fall.
Then Joseph Glover, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, looked at the numbers closely. Each spring, he saw, enrollment falls by about 2,000, as students go overseas, do internships, or graduate. Why not offset that loss, he asked, with students who would take up no space, in dorms or classrooms, from August through December?
Florida, like many other institutions, has long offered spots to "January admits," first-year applicants who must wait for a semester before enrolling. Over the past several years, the university has quadrupled the number of freshmen admitted in the spring, when it also welcomes about 1,000 transfer students. (All of those students can take classes in any subsequent semester.)
To make his idea work, Mr. Glover figured the university could add enough classes during the summer to cover a broad array of majors. The plan would expand access, and, perhaps, increase net tuition revenue.
Officials decided that the spring-and-summer option must come with an enticement, something distinctive. So they developed the Innovation Academy, a mandatory series of courses, including a senior-year capstone project, for all spring-and-summer students. Each student takes six courses—on creativity and entrepreneurship, for instance—as part of a minor in "innovation."
The program offers seminars, guest lectures, and service-learning opportunities, all to encourage students to develop solutions to problems in their chosen fields. Participating students also get hands-on experience at the university's new business incubator.
Florida plans eventually to enroll 2,000 students on the spring-and-summer schedule, and Mr. Glover expects the program to become self-sustaining over time. "This could be the prelude to a year-round calendar," he says. "We believe we have sufficient demand to fill up the campus."
Demand has driven change at many flagships. Six years ago, the University of Georgia added a spring cohort to enroll a few hundred more freshmen each year. Nancy G. McDuff, associate vice president for admissions and enrollment management, says not all institutions can control the terms of enrollment. Still, she describes Florida's plan as a good model. "We all have to be creative," she says, "in looking for ways to meet our states' growing needs on reduced budgets."
'This Is What I Wanted'
Innovation often creates new challenges. Florida had to rework its housing contracts, which run from fall to spring, to accommodate spring-and-summer students. Registration plans and orientation programs needed retooling. "The whole university is built on a fall-spring model," Mr. Glover says, "and we've unconsciously built a system around that."
Some students in the program have complained about missed opportunities, like fall rush. Others lament that because they were not yet official students, they lacked access to football tickets and campus buses.
Administrators say they are finding solutions to many of those issues. "We're trying to ensure that they're not cut out of student life," Mr. Glover says.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is marketing. Although many prospective students seem to understand that the new program is not a B-list option, parents often need convincing. "It doesn't resonate with the college experience they had," says Zina L. Evans, vice president for enrollment management.
A new question on Florida's admission application asks all students to describe an experience "creating or developing a solution to a problem that benefited you and others." The application also asks students if they are interested in the Innovation Academy (a hyperlink connects them to a description of the program). Those who click "Yes" are considered for both terms, and, if accepted, might end up in either one.
For the 2012-13 freshman class, nearly 30,000 students applied to Florida, which admitted 44 percent of them. About 2,200 of those applicants noted their interest in the Innovation Academy, and 38 percent were offered a spring-and-summer spot. "Melt" was minimal: All but 30 of the 330 students who had sent deposits ended up enrolling.
Although students in the program will graduate with the same Florida diplomas as their peers do, their experiences will differ. Students who take the new route will not have access to all of the university's majors, for instance; Spanish and performing arts are among those that the spring-and-summer cohort cannot pursue. Mr. Glover expects the number of majors that are available in the program, now 29, to grow slightly.
For now, Florida seeks students like Victor Guerra, a freshman from Tampa, who liked the concept behind the Innovation Academy right away. "This is what I wanted," he says.
Mr. Guerra is all for experiments. As a high-school student, he learned as much as he could about aquaponics, a sustainable food-production system in which aquatic animals and plants form a symbiotic environment. In his parents' garden, he grew kale, peppers, and squash, all nourished by nutrients from tilapia excrement.
While most Florida students were studying and socializing in Gainesville last fall, Mr. Guerra was tasting local honey in Turkey. He spent two months there, learning about eco-tourism and sustainable food development. He hopes to return next fall for an internship in either field.
So far he likes the Innovation Academy. Students in the program who choose to live on campus share the same first-year dormitory. "You have this sort of network of you can count on," he says. "We're here to help each other." He likes what he describes as freedom to pursue ideas.
Still, Mr. Guerra thinks some students are more enthusiastic than others. A few, he suspects, checked the box just because they thought it would help their odds of becoming a Gator. "It's kind of a weird combination," he says.
Ms. Tamayo, a public-relations major, now says she has no regrets. Last August she moved from her family's house, in Miami, to Gainesville, where she shared an off-campus apartment with friends, all students at Florida. She worked part time at Forever 21, a clothing store, and took two online courses offered by the university.
She did encounter some frustrations, though. She tried to join a leadership club but was told that only full-time students could participate. She heard the same thing when she sought a critique of her résumé on the campus.
Each weekday morning, Ms. Tamayo's friends went to class, leaving the apartment quiet. "There was this feeling in me that I should be doing something more productive," she says.
Then came finals week. Ms. Tamayo watched her friends, tired but determined, studying day and night. She couldn't wait, she thought, to experience that.