SOUTH HADLEY — Mount Holyoke College is taking the plunge this summer into offering an array of courses that give students a chance to acquire credits they need — and to appeal to people beyond the college who want to add to their professional skills.
College officials make no bones about the fact that a need to make money is part of the motivation for the summer programs.
“The revenue we generate will enrich what we are already doing on campus,” said Jodi Devine, who is in charge of the college’s expanded summer offerings. “It will support the running of the college and the undergraduate programs that already exist.”
Mount Holyoke had a “soft launch” last summer with nine classes that drew 57 students, said Devine. This summer, the college will offer 26 courses spread out over two sessions plus 31 sections in a host of languages such as Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian.
Moving into continuing education is a trend among smaller liberal arts colleges seeking to tap into a market for learning outside of the regular academic calendar, Devine said.
In the Five Colleges area, the trend is evident at Hampshire College, where new courses have been offered each year since 2012 — and where a month-long summer film institute will be launched this summer.
Abby Ferguson, director of summer academic programs, said Hampshire’s summer offerings offer niche programs that “reflect what our strengths are,” promote Hampshire College to a wider community, and generate revenue — in that order.
“Summer programs at the liberal arts level is definitely a trend,” Ferguson said. “They’re moving into that arena not just to extend the academic year, but to be able to offer boutique programs where they can experiment or so faculty can try new things without adding to their course load during the year.”
Part of the rationale for opening up Mount Holyoke’s classrooms during the summer is to help students meet their academic goals, according to Devine, director of Mount Holyoke’s office of Professional and Graduate Education, or PAGE.
“The college recognized the need for Mount Holyoke undergraduates to take courses outside of the spring and fall semesters,” she said.
This could be to build up a transcript to apply for a particular graduate program, to add a minor or to make up a class. It also offers students on campus during the summer for work or research a chance to take a class at the same time, Devine said.
These include courses in chemistry, physics, psychology, education, English and philosophy. Most are on campus but a few are taught on the Internet, including a four-credit film course extending from the end of May to the beginning of July that will study Chinese movies as the basis for understanding the lives of Chinese women.
Two-credit courses cost $600 and four-credit courses are $1,200. Science classes carry an additional $500 lab fee. There is no financial aid.
Another online course that also has a classroom component will teach methods for integrating the arts into the kindergarten through Grade 8 general education curriculum.
A course on Victorian detective fiction, with a special nod to Sherlock Holmes, would integrate historical lessons about the times with an examination of theories of knowledge.
In addition to offering summer and January classes, Devine’s office runs year-round programs in what it calls “mathematics leadership” providing professional development for elementary and middle school teachers.
It also has a program for people who have graduated from an accredited college and want to go to medical school but lack the necessary science credits to apply.
Devine said all the courses offered through her office are vetted by the school’s curricular review committee. “Obviously the programs we create have the Mount Holyoke name on them,” she said. They meet the standards for “high academic quality and rigor of anything Mount Holyoke offers.”
The credits are designed to be transferable, but students from other schools would have to get approval of registrars from their institutions to have the credits recognized.
New offerings also include two study-abroad experiences, a six-week language and culture program in Kaliningrad Russia and a four-week program focusing on education, social justice and human rights in South Africa. Both carry a base price of $5,500 with some financial aid available.
Devine said her office, which includes four program directors, two assistant directors and a financial analyst, is looking forward to further building on the Mount Holyoke brand to widen its offerings.
“Obviously, I’d like to keep growing our existing programs,” said Devine. “We are also doing some research into additional professional programs.”
One potential model is so-called hybrid courses in which participants come to campus at the beginning and end with intervening instruction online. This approach is especially useful for people who are working in other parts of the country.
The programs currently offered by Mount Holyoke’s Professional and Graduate Education office were in place when Devine arrived, but she has been exploring new educational opportunities. “We are conducting research to anticipate what the demand will be for our ideas before we make a financial investment in developing a new program,” she said. “We want to make sure it is viable and that there is a market need.”
Moving forward with developing new programs, Devine said, “We are doing them conscientiously so they reflect Mount Holyoke’s academic quality and pay attention to our high standards, but would also meet some needs for students.”
While Smith College is not adding courses for undergraduate students right now, it has offered them in the past and may in the future if the conditions are right, according to Laurie Fenlason, vice president for public affairs and strategic initiatives.
“We would want to test the market to assess a number of factors, like areas of particular course demand, what pricing the market would bear, and the interest of our faculty in teaching in summer, since many of them use that time for research,” Fenlason said in an email to the Gazette.
Amherst College, meanwhile, offers several educational programs for adults and elementary and high school students, but at present no college-credit courses.
Ferguson said Hampshire College piloted its first for-credit summer program, the Food, Farm and Sustainability Institute, in 2012 after a strategic planning process identified adding summer programs as a goal.
With Hampshire’s Farm Center and widespread campus interest in sustainability, the program seemed like a natural place to start, she said. “We want our courses to reflect where our strengths are and where we see ourselves as leaders,” she said. The Food, Farm and Sustainability Institute will be offered in 2014 for the third summer.
In 2013, the college added the Tesol Teacher Training Course to instruct aspiring or current educators in teaching English to non-native speakers. New this year are the Creative Media Institute for video and photography, and the Institute for Curatorial Practices for those interested in art and museum curating.
The four programs all offer college credit, but like Mount Holyoke’s programs, it is up to students to verify that the credits will transfer to their institutions. They range in cost from $4,279 to $5,680. Hampshire College students may be eligible to use some of their federally funded financial aid for the summer programs, Ferguson said, but there is no institutional financial aid available for them or students from other colleges.
Professionals also take the courses to continue their education, Ferguson said. Non-students in the Creative Media Institute have the option of doing the whole month-long program or attending for one week at a cost of either $1,220 or $1,420, depending on the week.
Hampshire College has also offered a program on prototyping and design called Designing for Social Impact to high school juniors and seniors since 2013.