OGDEN — This summer, all of Weber State’s courses will be online or virtual, but unlike the spring semester, students will sign up for their courses expecting these formats — which could encourage or deter students from attending, potentially increasing or decreasing the university’s summer enrollment.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university announced on March 12 that it would be transitioning all spring courses online for the remainder of the semester. After canceling regular classes from March 13-17, all courses resumed online starting March 18.
“Unfortunately, no one has a crystal ball when it comes to predicting the spread of COVID-19 in Utah or nationwide,” WSU President Brad Mortensen and Provost Ravi Krovi wrote in a message sent late last week to inform the campus community that the university would hold a summer session.
“While we recognize that many of you long for a return to in-person classroom instruction, it is impossible to know how soon that might occur,” the message continued.
There is a difference between online and virtual courses, said Brett Perozzi, vice president of student affairs for the university.
Online courses are asynchronous, meaning that students don’t need to be accessing lectures or other course content at the same time. Virtual courses have elements that are synchronous, where all class members gather virtually at specific times using video chat or conferencing tools.
Some students have reported that the move to online and virtual coursework has been difficult, so it’s possible that students who might have attended in-person will choose not to enroll in courses using these formats.
Due to the tumult of the past semester, and Weber State’s extension of the course withdrawal deadline to April 17, it’s also possible that students who dropped courses during the spring — due to the transition online or the uncertainty of the pandemic — might try to catch up on lost time and credits over the summer session. Weber State also offers summer economic incentives, like in-state tuition for out-of-state students, that might encourage people to sign up for classes.
In addition, virtual and online coursework offers considerable schedule flexibility, so a broader offering of coursework in these formats might appeal to Weber State’s working students, many of whom are parents and work full time.
According to a 2019 study of working college students in Utah, conducted by the Utah Data Research Center, Weber State has the highest rate of working students from ages 17-29 and ages 30-54, though it’s trailed closely by Utah Valley University.
“It’s very possible that virtual courses would have an appeal to currently working professionals,” Perozzi said. “And that would be a nice side effect ... if we’re able to help students ... or potential students who have been thinking about school for a while.”
If enrollment does go up, Perozzi suspects that the course format wouldn’t be the biggest driver.
“A lot of times ... folks will go back to school when the economy’s not great, but we don’t know that just yet,” Perozzi said. “I would tend to think that the economy would drive that (potential enrollment increase) more than just the format change, but ... lots of working folks are looking for virtual options.”
Under normal circumstances, more options for online and virtual coursework would likely increase enrollment among working students, said Brian Stecklein, vice president of online and continuing education for Weber State. But the COVID-19 pandemic is far from normal circumstances.
“We just don’t know what COVID-19 is going to do to people overall,” Stecklein said. “We hope (increased virtual and online coursework) gives students more flexibility, and they can have a bigger summer semester than they have in the past, and take advantage of that in order to further their educational goals.”
Professors will be able to choose which format they’ll use for their courses, according to Allison Hess, spokesperson for the university.
Summer registration opened Monday, not long after the decision to hold summer session was made, so professors and instructors are in the early stages of deciding how to transition their summer courses to these formats. As a result, students won’t see whether a course is online or virtual when they register, Hess said. They may need to email professors for more information.