Enrollment in summer school projected to be the highest ever

Enrollment in summer school at the University of California, Berkeley, is shaping up to be a record-breaker. More than 13,800 UC Berkeley students, international scholars and independent adult learners are signing up for courses ranging from first-year reading and composition to “The Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.,” and thousands more are expected to enroll.

Today, Monday, May 24, marks the beginning of UC Berkeley’s Summer Sessions, five staggered sessions that run from three to 10 weeks in length, with most sessions ending Aug, 13. While it’s too early to predict the final enrollment tally — registration continues into August — preliminary head counts indicate a notable rise in summer school conscription. At least 1,000 more students are enrolled today than were at this time last year. Meanwhile 1,400 students have signed up for online courses, a 50 percent increase over last year.

“It’s looking to be the highest enrollment ever,” said Richard Russo, director of Summer Sessions. While students do not report their reasons for enrolling in summer school, Russo suspects the worry over not graduating in four years due to financial constraints may be spurring more students to use the traditional vacation season to fulfill academic requirements at a discount.

At the opening of what is traditionally the slow academic season at UC Berkeley, summer enrollment rates are higher for both UC Berkeley students and domestic and international visiting students, with a 30 percent increase in international students. The uptick suggests that Summer Sessions’ recruitment efforts and partnerships with overseas institutions have paid off, said Russo. The Gwangu Institute of Science and Technology in Korea is sending 100 students to UC Berkeley this summer, he said, and the American University in Cairo is sending 40 students.

Another factor driving up enrollment may be the cost of summer school compared to the cost of the fall 2010 and spring 2011 semesters. Fee increases for students in Summer Sessions are less than half of the 32 percent fee hikes to be imposed on University of California students in the fall. “We were trying to be kind, and we’re seeing higher enrollment perhaps because of the discount,” said Russo.

UC students pay $292 per unit during Summer Sessions. Financial aid and Pell Grants are available to low-income students. For more information about costs, visit Berkeley Summer Sessions website.

While there are wait lists for some courses, including English as a Second Language, 21 Summer Sessions courses have been canceled due to low enrollment. “The students won’t take just anything that’s offered,” Russo said.

Reading and composition, business, science and math classes attract the most students. Popular online courses this year include “The Planets,” which has 100 students enrolled; “Statistics,” with 400 enrolled and a wait list; and a molecular and cell biology class called “The Brain, Mind and Behavior.” Fascinating summer courses include “San Francisco detectives,” “Earthquakes in your backyard,” “Feminist jurisprudence,” “Gospel chorus” and “Sex and the Brain.”

UC Berkeley’s Summer Sessions was launched in 1900 with 37 courses and 433 students. Today, the campus offers more than 100 courses, from calculus to “Women in the Arab and Muslim Worlds.” Faculty typically make up 10 percent of Summer Sessions instructors. The remainder is made up of lecturers and graduate student instructors.

UC Berkeley students make up 75 percent of summer scholars. The remaining 25 percent of summer students include visitors from other institutions and other adult learners. Travel study programs were offered this year in Mexico, Spain, Portugal, England and Kenya, and due to their popularity, enrollment for these programs is now closed.