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Condensed Classes and Student Success

Condensed Classes and Student Success

One of the many contemporary strategies to improve student success involves compressing the semester time frame from 16 weeks to eight. Assuming a student takes two courses every eight weeks, the individual would still be designated as full-time, thus qualifying for financial aid. 

For a nice overview of the purported benefits—and controversies—of the strategy please read this article in the Amarillo Globe-News by Robert Stein. The piece includes skeptical comments by faculty members and Rex Peebles, assistant commissioner of academic quality and workforce at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Dr. Peebles doesn't see how compressed courses give students more time to work, assuming study time remains the same. 

Amarillo College is moving ahead with its transition to eight-week courses after testing the concept with some classes during the spring. This fall, about half of the college's classes will be available in the accelerated format, the article reports. 

AC is following the lead of Odessa College, where the switch to eight-week courses contributed to increases in enrollment, course completion, and student success, according to a report submitted by OC in 2015 to Texas Completes, a statewide multi-college initiative to share data and strategies to improve completion rates. 

Most of us have taken and/or taught compressed courses. Obviously summer sessions are compressed. But summer students are often "visiting" from selective universities and tend to be stronger in the first place, thus explaining their success. Hence the concern of faculty members who teach, say, algebra, about whether a condensed format is a good idea for the typical community college student. 

As pointed out in the article, there is nothing magical about the 16-week semester. And, so far, it is hard to argue with improved rates of success and enrollment with the new model. But weaker students in particular may need more time to establish good habits and learn one step at a time. Plus, enrollments can rise and fall due to factors that have nothing to do with course offerings, such as the local economy. 

A good question to ask is whether the academic and demographic profile of students who enroll in compressed courses is basically identical to those who previously enrolled in 16-week semesters. If not, it may be prudent to offer enough courses in a longer semester to accommodate certain individuals.