A #UWSummer to Remember

On July 18, hundreds of people enjoyed classes, leisure activities and beautiful views on campus from early morning until late at night. They shared their impressions on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #UWSummer, showing the whole world what UW-Madison’s Summer Term looked like on a typically glorious day.

It’s not surprising that so many students, staff, and faculty members participated in the university’s creative crowdsourcing activity. There’s tremendous energy surrounding Summer Term. As many of you know, we launched an effort two years ago to reorganize and reframe Summer Term at UW-Madison, opening a host of new courses in the summer of 2016. This has provided students with expanded educational opportunities and flexibilities, allowed the university to use more of its facilities year-round, and expanded our tuition revenues by 35 percent over the two-year period. This year’s successes show the benefits of our new approach to #UWSummer.

Let’s start with the biggest advantage to Summer Term: There’s no better time to be in Madison than in the months of June, July and August. This is a wonderful time to invite current students to remain in town and to attract new summer-only students.

Past student surveys indicated that students wanted more online courses that accommodate summer schedules, more high-demand courses that satisfy curricular requirements, and more hands-on learning experiences that prepare them for future careers. As a result, our new summer curriculum includes almost all of the high-demand courses. Academic departments have expanded their offerings, and students have enrolled in record numbers. Total credit hours taken during Summer Term has increased 18 percent over the past two years. Significantly, summer enrollment in online courses has almost doubled from 2015 to 2017. About half of our summer students enroll in online courses and half are in residence.

We are using Summer Term as an opportunity to give more undergraduates research experience with UW faculty, including specialized coursework and faculty mentoring. This year, with help from Educational Innovation, we offered the new WISCIENCE Summer Research Scholarship to 34 students. They worked on projects ranging from treating autism to investigating infants’ brain development to ensuring safe medical procedures in rural communities. We expect this investment to pay off for Wisconsin and beyond as these students contribute to the next great breakthroughs in their fields.

Along with the WISCIENCE scholarships, we awarded an Undergraduate Scholarship for Summer Study to more than 700 students. We also instituted a Transfer Scholars Summer Award for spring transfer students, who took summer courses to work toward their UW-Madison degrees. We’re proud that the increase in scholarship funding over the past two years has made Summer Term more accessible for students with documented financial need. It has also allowed more students to capitalize on one of Summer Term’s key benefits: staying on track to graduate in four years, thus avoiding the expense of an extra semester.

As I scrolled through the #UWSummer posts, I was impressed by the diversity of our campus during Summer Term. We’re opening the door to a wider range of learners, including high school students, adults and undergraduates from other institutions. Along those lines, we created the International Student Summer Institute to ease the way for international students starting at UW-Madison in the fall. The four-week program helped students from nine countries improve their academic English skills before classes began. It also introduced them to the Chazen Museum of Art, the Babcock Hall Dairy Store, the Wisconsin Union, and other one-of-a-kind attractions that make our campus special.

We’re already looking forward to 2018. We’ll expand this year’s successful programs for undergraduate research, first-year students and transfer students, along with creating more residential programs for high school students and undergraduates from other institutions. Thanks to changes we made to the academic calendar, we’ve added a four-week summer session in May that will give students increased flexibility in scheduling courses. And we’ll offer an even more robust array of learning experiences with help from both campus colleagues and external partners. To spur innovative programming, we’re encouraging instructors, departments, administrators and cross-campus workgroups to apply for Summer Term Igniter Funds.

The ability to take courses over three semesters adds flexibility to student schedules. This makes it easier for students to participate in study abroad or internship/work experiences during the fall or spring terms without falling behind in required coursework. If a student experiences a health problem or family crisis that leaves them short of credits during the regular term, summer courses can help them catch up with their cohort. We want students to graduate on time whenever possible. That reduces debt and moves them into their careers more quickly.

As most academic units know, much of the money generated by summer tuition stays within schools and colleges and is used to support faculty and staff in those units. That’s a big incentive to offer courses that attract a good number of students.

So, if you thought there was more activity on campus this summer than you’ve seen in recent years, you’re right. I’m waiting for someone to complain to me that they can’t drive across campus in July because there are too many students around! If you thought #UWSummer 2017 was good, just wait until next year, when there will be even more to tweet about.