With final summer enrollment numbers now tallied at New Mexico State University, student counts are showing an unexpected jump in the College of Engineering thanks to an innovative approach by both the central administration and the college.
The change – a 57-percent increase in student credit hours this summer compared to summer 2015 – can be attributed to a new process and funding plan developed by the NMSU provost’s office and a creative approach by the college.
When Provost Dan Howard announced a new revenue-sharing model for summer courses, College of Engineering Interim Dean Steven Stochaj saw it as a chance to offer a number of high-enrollment courses not normally offered in the summer.
Why offer such classes in the summer? For Stochaj, it seemed like a way to create more opportunity for certain students.
Stochaj explained that the path to an engineering degree is not often linear, and can instead be compared to a plant’s root system, with students coming to the university from a variety of programs, such as two-year colleges, dual enrollment programs and others. As a result, a very structured program may not enable all students to start and finish at the same pace. Students who must work to support themselves while attending classes also may not be able to keep pace with others, and may struggle to take key classes in a timely way, especially with a goal of graduating in four years.
“The entry points into the college are all over the place,” Stochaj said.
Stochaj felt a more robust summer schedule might be helpful for students. And with certain required courses normally offered only in the fall or the spring semester, offering additional chances to take these high-enrollment classes on a non-traditional schedule might also help students.
Using savings from a vacant faculty position, Stochaj was able to generate the funding necessary for the college’s share of the cost of new summer classes. He made sure students knew far in advance – last January – that the classes would be available so they could plan ahead. He also ensured the appropriate faculty members were interested in teaching summer courses.
Another important factor in the plan was weighing whether students would be willing to pay the summer tuition that is not covered by the Lottery Scholarship. The boost in enrollment answered that question.
“Students pay for this, not the Lottery,” Stochaj said. “They are willing to put out that money so they can graduate on time.”
With engineering graduates in high demand and seeing strong entry salaries, the students’ investment makes sense financially, he said.
Offering key courses that students could really focus on during the summer also played a part in the success of the approach.
“Summer’s a very different environment,” Stochaj said. “By taking one course at a time in that very focused environment, the typical engineering students excels.”
Stochaj said he hopes the program continues and becomes a permanent option at NMSU.
“Every student is going to be successful in a different way,” Stochaj said. “This adds a new path. We’re far from a one-size-fits-all.”
Author: Darrell J. Pehr – NMSU