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An Academic Winter Session: A Student Survey

By Kelly Price

While much study has been devoted to summer sessions, few researchers have examined winter sessions. While summer sessions are a source of revenue for institutions, their enrollment has  declined in recent years, despite the fact that they can be just as rigorous and even superior, in certain subjects, to full semesters.

Research has found that students who enroll in these alternative sessions are motivated by the desire to graduate early, reduce class load in the regular semesters, save tuition and other educational costs, enroll in graduate school, and enter the job market earlier. Wayne Chandler and Ralph Weller found four major categories in which students are motivated to attend summer school. Academic issues included meeting grade standards and prerequisites. The Independence category encompassed getting away from home, avoiding a job at home, social reasons, and parental insistence. The category of Finances was comprised of using scholarship funding and not being able to break a housing lease. Finally, the category of Summer School Academics involved finishing a class faster, improving grade point average, and lightening class load during the regular academic year. Students attend summer school because they enjoy these courses’ faster pace, smaller class size, access to instructors, and casual nature. A major benefit is the possibility of retaking failed courses and taking courses the student could not otherwise schedule. Other reasons students enroll in summer school have been found to be taking a class with a favorite instructor, the ability to focus on one course at a time, and the absence of social distractions. Other motivations include preparing more fully for one’s major field of study, self-improvement, and professional certification.

While traditional marketing channels have been the focus of much research into the marketing of academic institutions, social media has significantly grown and been used to market and engage current and potential students. According to Nora Barnes and Eric Mattson, admissions offices have increased use of social media; only 61 percent used social media in 2007, while 85 percent did in 2008. Meredith Weiss finds that other social media strategies have been developed to reflect the view that academic institutions should use websites and technology not to be “online brochures” but to be engaging. Key factors in the use and implementation of social media when marketing a higher education institution have been found to be integration, advising, collaborating, listening, assessing, and evolving. Finally, students using social media have been shown to be most interested in social interaction and information seeking.

Winter Session Survey Results

The current survey was designed to learn more about variables important to successful implementation of an academic winter session at an academic institution. The survey used to gather data was institutional in scope, focusing on a midsized regional state university in the South. The survey addressed variables including demographics, motivations for enrollment, satisfaction regarding the winter session, overall feedback about the session, if students would enroll again in the future if given the opportunity, how students heard about the winter session, and timing issues regarding the session. The variables extant to this study were motivation for enrollment and how the students heard about the winter session.

Five colleges within the university offered courses during the five-week winter session (which lasted from mid-December until late January), with a total of seventy-four courses offered. A total of 920 students were enrolled in the winter session. Faculty teaching in the winter session were asked to provide a link to the online questionnaire in their online course at the end of the session. Students were asked to click on the embedded link, which took them to the online questionnaire. This was thought to be the best way to receive responses given the fact that the session was online and not in a physical classroom. A total of 151 surveys were completed, which yielded a return rate of approximately 17 percent. Students were offered a free winter session T-shirt as an incentive to complete the online questionnaire.

Thirty-one percent of the respondents were males and 69 percent were females. (At last record, enrollment at the university where the study was conducted was 42 percent male and 58 percent female.) The majority of respondents were twenty years old or younger. Most students classified themselves as in-state (93 percent) and as a student of the university (99 percent). Eighty-one percent of students were full-time, while the remaining 19 percent were part-time. Thirty-five percent of the respondents were seniors, with juniors 31 percent, sophomores 18 percent, and first-year students 16 percent.

E-mail, the university website, and advisers were the most common ways students heard about the winter session. Table 1 shows all of the methods by which students indicated they heard about the session.

Table 1 – How Students Heard About Winter Session (By Percent)

How Students Heard About Winter Session Percentage of students
Professor 15
Advisor 32
Classmate/Peers 18
Poster 23
E-mail 38
Web site 35
Social Networking (Such as Facebook or Twitter) 1

An overwhelming amount of students cited convenience as a major reason for enrolling in the winter session. Table 2 shows all the reasons students enrolled in the winter session. Asked if they would enroll in winter session in the future if given the opportunity, 84 percent said yes, 5 percent said no, and the remainder stated maybe or not applicable. Ninety-four percent of students stated they had sufficient time to complete required course assignments, while 6 percent said they did not have enough time to complete them.

Table 2 – Why the Students Enrolled in Winter Session (By Percent)

Why the Student Enrolled in Winter Session Percentage of students
Graduate Early 36
Retake a Course 5
Convenience 57
Ability to Focus on One Course 31

Beyond these results, other notable patterns emerged. First, students who took a winter course for convenience were more likely to have learned about the winter session through the website, while students who took a winter course to graduate early were more likely to have learned about the winter session through e-mail. Second, the younger the student, the more likely he or she was to desire convenience from an academic schedule. Finally, the survey revealed that a student’s academic standing had no impact on his or her goals.

Implications for Practice

These results suggest several possible implications for administrators. Students who took a winter course for convenience were more likely to have learned about the winter session through the website. From this we can infer that website administrators were diligent in posting timely and user-friendly information. Instant response from school officials expedited student admission to the session. Since the website was convenient, and convenience was the primary motivator for these students, the use of this medium was confirmed.

Another important finding was that students who took a winter course to graduate early were more likely to have learned about the winter session through e-mail. University officials sent information to all registered students during the previous fall semester via by university e-mail regarding the planned winter session. This indicated that marketing the session using the infrastructure media was effective. Students wishing to graduate early responded to this campaign. Furthermore, it may be argued that the use of an integrated marketing strategy that includinged the web site and e-mail were was successful.

It also appears that the younger the student, the more likely he or she was to desire convenience. The winter session may have been quite viable for this demographic because of the time frame of a five-week session and the factor of online delivery. No difference was found between genders in any result of the survey. Thus, when developing further marketing strategies, only the demographic of age, and not that of gender, may be worthy of segmentation.

Results showed that academic class had no effect on goal orientation. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that a senior is more goal oriented that a student in his or her first year. When developing future marketing strategy, academic status thus should not be a driving factor in targeting. It was evident that the winter session is sought by students for specific reasons, of which the most significant in this study were convenience and goal attainment.

A solid enrollment for the winter session proved that the session was financially relevant to the university. Given its success, the session could be expanded to include more departments and more course offerings. The use of the university’s marketing and media channels (e-mail, website) was important in marketing the session. Social media remains a marketing opportunity for administrators, since so few students heard about the winter session through this medium. University officials’ recognition of this may lead to more emphasis on these media for marketing all university programs. In addition, the marketing effort for the winter session may be extended to venues outside the university’s infrastructure. This has the potential to widen the university’s fiscal success.

While summer session and winter session have much in common, winter session presents unique challenges. Some of these include the overlap of winter session into the spring semester, the timing of end-of-the-year holidays, and possible financial aid obstacles for students. However, winter session may hold much promise for academic institutions hoping to improve student convenience, access, and opportunity.

Kelly Price is a marketing professor at East Tennessee State University. Price completed her PhD in human ecology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in the retail, hospitality, and tourism department with a concentration in retail and consumer sciences. Her professional affiliations include the American Marketing Association (national and local chapters). Along with numerous university, college and departmental committees, she has served as a college of business and technology faculty senator and is the current faculty advisor to Sigma Kappa Sorority at ETSU. 

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