The new summer school - Big tuition breaks and course variety lure students

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A summer job may be a great option for college students, but there are other ways to make the break from the traditional classroom calendar pay. Some colleges and universities are reshaping the summer vacation mold by offering tuition discounts, payment plans and extra programs to encourage students to continue their studies during the traditional summer break.

The majority of campuses of Indiana University, including Indiana University Northwest in Gary, are offering in-state students a 25 percent tuition break for courses this summer. And out-of-state students are eligible for discounts that match the dollar amount their in-state classmates are saving.

“Like every state university, we are challenged to do what we can for students, and especially to help them graduate on time,’’ said Mark Land, an Indiana University system spokesman. “The school-year model is pretty outmoded these days, and we have to maintain the campus buildings whether they are in use or not.’’

He said the faculty council pushed for making summer classes more attractive and increasing efficiencies. The discount was announced in the fall, and Land reported the university has received a “decent buzz” and lots of anecdotal praise from parents, especially from those who may have to pay rent on a child’s apartment that could sit empty for a couple months.

“This also opens up the possibility for an undergraduate student to take a fall or spring semester work internship without falling way behind on classroom credits,’’ he said. “This may be the first step in a longer-range move to make college a year-round endeavor.’’

Meanwhile, at the University of St. Francis in Joliet summer pays off big for students who want to work and stay on track academically. Many St. Francis summer courses, which are discounted to $400 per credit hour (normally $795 per credit hour), are taught completely online so students can work a full-time job and “attend classes’’ virtually.

“During the fall and spring, we have more on-campus students, so the online offerings are not quite as popular,’’ said Chuck Beutel, a campus vice president. “But for students who want to pick up an extra class away from their home university, this is a great advantage. And as fuel prices keep going up, I think the online choice is going to be even more attractive.”

Beutel said this will be the third summer that the university has offered the tuition discount, which especially helps students who want to attend during the summer but have exhausted their financial aid packages. He said the discount makes summer school tuition close to the amount many students pay after state, federal and institutional aid has been applied. He said since many undergrads can still take lower division classes at nearby community colleges, St. Francis is focusing on upper-level courses for juniors and seniors.

As Beutel noted, community colleges always have been attractive places for students who are home for the summer to earn credits that will transfer to their four-year colleges. But for the first time this summer, the College of DuPage is offering current high school juniors and seniors the chance to earn college credits before they set off for a four-year school.

“This is an affordable way for a high-achieving high schooler to get a head start,” said Kathy Doyle, coordinator of the high school program administered through the continuing education department. “Lots of high school students want to amp up their portfolios before they apply for college.”

Doyle said the classes require the same academic rigor as classes college-age students attend. But this program has two features to make the transition smooth: The courses are limited to current high school students and are located off-campus in familiar settings at Neuqua Valley and Lake Park East high schools and the Glen Crest Middle School near the college campus.

The seven City Colleges of Chicago are well known for offering students a bargain for completing general education requirements, said Ana Vargas, a college spokesman. And to sweeten the pot, this summer students can enroll and register for courses for $60 and then arrange to pay the balance in two installments during the summer session.

“We always get a positive reaction when we let people know about this plan,’’ she said.

“Our traditional student isn’t very traditional at all,” Vargas said, so the system offers evening and weekend courses during the summer session just as it does in the fall and spring. She said the broad range of courses and class meeting times are meant to help working students continue getting an education year-round.

She also pointed out that if a student is enrolled at another Illinois college, chances are high that City Colleges’ courses will transfer. Classes are labeled to show whether credits will transfer automatically, which she said makes it easy for students to be confident about their summer choices. Vargas said college officials like to tout the phrase, “know before you enroll.’’

With so many options available for earning credits, it’s easy for students to have a profitable summer break close to home.

Karen Huelsman is a local free-lance writer.