Campus bulletin boards, usually covered with UBG promotions, study abroad opportunities and college event notices, have been joined by posters advertising interim classes.
Augustana’s interim offers students the opportunity to focus on a single course throughout the month of January.
In the past, J-term offerings have allowed students to get a class done quickly or explore a subject they wouldn’t normally take on for an entire semester.
However, this year the administration modified interim offerings to give priority to requirement filling courses.
“In the past we have struggled with very low enrollments (0-10) in pure elective offerings,” registrar Joni Krueger said. “If you are seeing fewer of these in the schedule it is driven by student demand for general education and major courses instead of electives.”
For English department head Patrick Hicks, the administrative decision marks “a seismic shift” in how the interim has operated in the past for the English department.
“I believe J-term is a really great time to explore courses outside of your major or even the general education plan,” he said.
In addition to the focus shift, Hicks’ fellow English professors have taken to advertising J-term courses with posters in response to increased administrative pressure on enrollment numbers.
Courses across academic departments both in and outside of interim have been scrutinized when not meeting minimum enrollment numbers. If a course fails to meet sufficient enrollment numbers over interim, it could be canceled.
Dean of the college and senior vice president for academic affairs Susan Hasseler further explained the change by noting that required courses have always accompanied electives during interim.
“As more and more students pursue multiple majors and/or minors,” Hasseler said. “They tend to prefer to take courses in interim (and throughout the semester) that will fulfill particular requirements. Many interim courses fulfill major and/or general education requirements but can also be taken as pure electives, which allows students the broadest range of options.”
However, the variety of options may be narrowed for individuals when a required course is available against one of pure interest.
“J-term has always been the time to take the fun, quirky classes,” said senior Katelynn Kenney.
She has taken theatre electives in her last two interims, while using her freshman year to take a biology lab.
“I think that as long as the administration keeps making decisions like this without considering what the students would want, they’re going to continue to have problems with student morale,” junior Zach Serrano said.
This, Serrano said, will contribute to “the continued drop in enrollment.”
In some cases, changes have made certain required courses only available in interim. English majors required to take one of three advanced language courses will now find they are only available during interim.
“We were told that our courses needed to fill either a general education or major requirement,” Hicks said.
This form of binding to requirement is not uncharacteristic of other departments. According to Christa Gunderson, an assistant professor of sign language interpreting, ASL students are committed to major requirements junior and senior year.
“They have to take what we tell them to take,” Gunderson said in regards to certain ASL J-term classes.
Assistant professor of education Tony Durr said that advising for interim classes can be challenging.
“Last year was particularly hard for freshmen,” Durr said.
He believes a shift towards required courses can help students who, as in education, have a “pretty prescribed” major.
Some freshmen, such as psychology major Charlie Johnson, may use the interim to determine what major they want to pursue in the first place.
“I think I’m going to change my major to communications or business,” Johnson said.
He plans to use the interim to explore communications.
“If they make major requirements only available during J-term,” Kenney said, “it forces students to take a particular course.”
More students being compelled to fulfill requirements will lower the number enrolling in pure elective courses, and further decrease the perceived interest.
“There are still courses being offered that will only count as electives, but there are fewer of them,” Krueger said.
The expectation of higher course enrollment makes sense to students such as senior Zack Truelson.
“I don’t think that it enhances the quality of the education, but there are legitimate, albeit indirect, business reasons for doing so,” he said.
As some courses lend to smaller class size for either resource purposes or quality of experience, Truelson believes that discretion on how many students should be allowed course by course are best left to academic departments.
For sophomore Shane Farrow, a limiting of elective options isn’t ideal.
“I think it’s unfortunately reflective of what colleges are becoming at this point,” Farrow said. “I can understand why they’re doing it.”
Farrow added that there is a shift in focus from the pursuit of knowledge to just completing course checklists.
According to Hasseler, most departments offer requirements which can also be taken as electives in an effor to optimize offerings.
“Using our resources carefully to meet student needs has always been Augustana’s policy and practice,” Hasseler said. “There will continue to be multiple options for great learning opportunities during interim.”