In December of 2010 Mercer followed the lead of numerous other colleges and began offering winter session courses. At first the plan was to offer non-credit bearing courses in things like photography and cooking, but quickly the college moved to run credit courses that students could take to accelerate their graduation.
The choice to offer the classes made financial sense for the college and practical sense for students who didn’t want to get stuck at Mercer for extra semesters.
To fit the winter session in between the fall and spring terms, however, classes had to be very short to avoid overlap with the end of the fall term, and, potentially, the beginning of the spring.
The school’s academic calendar has been retooled in the last few years. There is now just enough time for the four week winter session (six week classes are offered online only). But some faculty questioned whether students could acquire a full semester’s worth of learning in four weeks when even the highly condensed summer session courses run a full five weeks.
English Professor, Dr. Carol Bork says that while short semesters can work for certain disciplines, it is problematic in others: “For people to learn how to write at a college level, there has to be some down time where people think and reflect. There has to be time for revision, and revision actually doesn’t work unless there’s time in between the draft and the final version of the project. From my point of view writing classes, composition classes and literature classes, are not really a good choice for a shorter semester.”
Though literature classes used to be offered in the winter session they are not any longer. Lab sciences are also not offered. But some courses that are core for many majors are offered, like Psychology 101 and Health and Physical Education.
While there is room for debate about how short is too short to learn key skills. What is clear, however, is that transfer schools often treat shorter classes –even five week summer classes– differently than longer ones when determining what credits they will accept from our students.
If a student completes their associate’s degree at Mercer, under the Lampitt Law, all NJ state colleges who offer that student admission must accept them with 60 full credits, but students who transfer out before completing the degree have their transcripts evaluated course by course. Typically students don’t get credit for everything and extra short classes are among the first courses to go.
A source within Rutgers New Brunswick admissions office told The VOICE that the university will only accept one winter class per transfer student.
Although it is not clear that Mercer is attempting to defraud transfer schools, the college has been listing winter courses on students’ transcripts under the following “spring” semester.
According to Executive Dean of Student Affairs Diane Campbell, the reason for this is the college’s new computer system only allows a certain number of sessions to be listed.
“Before, I believe the number of sessions we had was like 23 sessions so when they were setting up Colleague they said that’s just too many sessions so when we tried to condense the sessions you will find the same thing in the Summer sessions,” Dean Campbell told The VOICE.
In fact, however, school records show the college has been listing winter classes as “spring” since the first winter classes were offered in 2010, well before the arrival of the new computer system.
Generating confusion for our transfer institutions is one problem inherent in recording winter classes as spring classes. A more obvious problem is that it can cause students to have trouble registering for their spring classes.
There is a cap on how many credits students can carry in a single semester. Because the enrollment system treats winter classes as spring classes, students can find themselves unable to register for a full line up in the spring session.
According to Dean of Liberal Arts and Communications, Robin Schore, there is a work around for the registration problem can fill out forms to resolve the conflict. But this puts students at cross purposes, not wanting to limit how many credits they can take in spring, but not wanting to change their transcript lest transfer schools refuse to take their credits.
Third year Exercise Science major, Jeff Dieudonne who took ENG102 online during the winter session says “people go to community colleges to save money. If four-year universities won’t transfer the credits, then it’s a waste of our time.”