WPI offers its students a wealth of opportunities from day one—conducting groundbreaking research with faculty, completing life-changing project work around the world, and ultimately learning the perfect combination of what it takes to make students their best selves by Commencement.
However, those opportunities don’t end once summer break rolls around. Many students take advantage of WPI’s optional E-Term to finish up project work, try their hand at something new, or (regardless of whether they’re guest students) get ahead in their studies, an option that’s steadily growing in popularity.
And that’s putting it mildly—WPI’s summer courses have seen a 16% increase from 2017 to 2018, and overall enrollment in summer courses has doubled in the last five years, due in significant part to the rise in online courses.
“You can find math and science classes online anywhere, but higher-level math and engineering sciences classes, not so much,” says director of special academic programs Debra Boucher. “The ability to take a high-level math, engineering science class online in the summer is something we’re becoming known for.”
Boucher says that last year she and her team noticed that guest students (students from other colleges and universities) were taking a small subset of courses consisting primarily of math and engineering science, so they targeted their marketing to highlight those programs in particular. Students also took it upon themselves to spread the word—those who had taken summer courses at WPI in the past told their friends about it, an invaluable endorsement that Boucher is sure played a part in the increased enrollment.
"The Very Best of WPI"
Summer courses are available in a wide variety of subjects, and while the majority of guest students sign up for specialized engineering and other STEM courses, current WPI students take advantage of the extra term for classes in math, engineering, chemistry, physics, and the humanities. Registrations for engineering courses have outpaced math for the first time this year among all students.
One of the things that Boucher (who, if she had to pick a course to take over the summer, is torn between the seminar on Lord of the Rings and a class focusing on the history of technology) believes is important to point out to students is “they can take a summer class on something they’re not majoring in and gain really useful skills that can be used and applied to their careers, no matter their fields,” solidifying the interdisciplinary nature of a WPI education.
While the number of summer students has been consistent over the years, online courses have seen a dramatic rise in enrollment, something Boucher finds especially impressive, considering the fact that WPI doesn’t offer online courses for undergraduates.
“We’re committed to ensuring that our summer courses are of the same high quality and rigor as courses offered in the more traditional academic terms. Our faculty are the same faculty [as during the school year]; we’re working with them and supporting them in every way we can to make sure people taking online courses are getting the very best of WPI.” -Debra Boucher
The expectation had originally been that guest students would be local, getting ahead on courses while they’re home for the summer, but in reality, students are from around the world. Boucher cites one class in particular where a professor had to proctor a single exam in several different time zones.
With an increase in online courses also comes an increased need for faculty resources and support as they perfect the art of online teaching and learning within the framework of academics at WPI. Faculty utilize data capture to record their lectures and make them available to both online and on-campus students after class, ensuring that the rigor of online and in-person classes match. A group of faculty also participated in an Institute for Online Learning with a curriculum designer last year, something Boucher says received positive feedback.
“We want to be intentional about how we support faculty as well as our students,” she adds.
Ultimately, the impressive growth in summer courses speaks volumes about how positively the programs are working for students and how valuable they find WPI’s offerings, and Boucher and her team are dedicated to continuing to deliver that expertise.
“We’re committed to ensuring that our summer courses are of the same high quality and rigor as courses offered in the more traditional academic terms,” she says. “Our faculty are the same faculty [as during the school year]; we’re working with them and supporting them in every way we can to make sure people taking online courses are getting the very best of WPI.”
- By Allison Racicot