Winter break now no time to brake January courses offer enrichment, catch-up


Ah, the college life. This is the time of year when college graduates long for their undergraduate days. They remember the monthlong winter break that was standard two decades ago and the time they had to ski, party and bug their parents for weeks.

Well, those memories should be cherished because that's exactly what they are. Today, fewer students have a month to lounge; instead, they're hunched over microscopes, reading Shakespeare, some even riding river boats on the Nile - anything but resting on their breaks.

The latest higher education trend is "winter term," with colleges and universities opening their classrooms in January, offering students the opportunity to earn credits - in some cases as many as four - in a shorter, more intensive term.

On more campuses, the traditional winter break, typically between Christmas and mid-January, is being extended to the end of the month to accommodate monthlong courses that meet for a few hours several times a week. The work is almost always optional and is designed to allow students to catch up, get ahead or try a new experience.

At University of Maryland Baltimore County, 93 courses are offered in topics ranging from English literature to Winter Survival - a course that teaches students to revive dying cars and snowshoe.

Jennifer Leverton is among 1,392 students who have enrolled in winter classes. She hopes the credits she earns in Psychology of Learning will help her graduate from the Baltimore County campus next year.

"During the fall and spring, I have two part-time jobs, so I can only take 12 or 15 credits. This is a good way to catch up without spending an extra semester on campus," she said.

Many students view January programs with the same pragmatism, said Sharon Sasada, the director of marketing for continuing education at UMBC. She said the university, which boasts the most extensive winter term in the area, has many students who are home from other colleges.

"It's a chance for them to ski a little, visit their family and friends and still work on their academic plan," she said.

The 8-year-old UMBC program is growing and increasing enrollment, Sasada said, and is such a success that administrators at the University of Maryland College Park are modeling their developing winter session on it.

Enrollment also is increasing in the Johns Hopkins University winter-term classes, according to Carol Burke, an associate dean of academic affairs. "It's something our students really appreciate. Of course, they can go to Aspen for the long stretch, but for those who can't afford Aspen and are academically serious, it really is a long stretch."

About one-fourth of the Hopkins student body returns to campus right after the holidays to dive back into classes that are more intensive, and often less crowded, than in the fall.

Other schools, such as Goucher College, offer study abroad and internships in January. This year, about a dozen Goucher students will study tropical marine biology in Honduras, while another group will trace English literary history in London and others will be working for nonprofit organizations in Washington.

Students are not the only ones to benefit from winter terms - the classes are an opportunity for schools to make money.

Les Coyne, recorder for the Association of University Summer Sessions, said his colleagues who run summer sessions are increasingly adding winter terms to their responsibilities.

"There are two reasons more colleges are doing this: First, it's an opportunity to diversify course offerings and off-site field work. Secondly, it's a way to generate revenue."

The Indiana University dean said that colleges and universities make more money by adding unique classes students will take in addition to their regular schedule and by attracting students from different campuses.

Some schools, however, are not keen on the winter terms. The Loyola College administration cut its mandatory winter term in 1986.

"It was an experiment that yielded mixed results," said Mark Kelly, a college spokesman.

He said the staff had designed a monthlong term with many of the intensive courses other universities offer and urged faculty to try new teaching approaches.

"There was some innovation, but there were also instances where it didn't work. We found that students actually had more flexibility under a two-semester program," he said, adding that three-week programs of study abroad are often too expensive for students.

Loyola was unique in requiring winter classes for its students, and Kelly said Loyola has not ruled out developing optional courses.

Pub Date: 12/08/96

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