Summer School: Not for Dummies Anymore

By Evan Jones
March 6, 2011

Traditionally, summer school was a doghouse reserved for students who flunked courses during the year and had to make up the work during the summer. The prospect of “Summer School” was a combination threat and disgrace during a student’s high school years. But now study during the summer no longer represents the stigma of failure, but has become a symbol of those who want to seize the opportunity to get ahead. In fact, many colleges (Emory Law School, for example1) will not even permit a student to attend summer classes unless they maintain a sufficient grade point average. The increasing expansion of online college courses has contributed to this trend.

Brick-and-mortar colleges are currently reacting with ambivalence to summer education. Government education budgets have tightened. The State of California, for example, is seriously considering cutting back its standard summer program.2 Louisiana public colleges are already canceling summer classes and activities after being hit with $300 million in budget cuts.3 On the other hand, Harvard has established a traditional classroom two-course summer “Secondary School Program”, where a student can take summer courses that are immediately good for credit at Harvard. This does not come cheap, however; tuition is $10,055.4

In any event, there appears to be an increase in demand for summer courses. The Houston Chronicle reported in June 2010 that University of Houston enrollment was up 11%, University of Houston-Clear Lake enrollment was up 11.3% and University of Houston-Downtown was up 3% from 2009. At Houston Community College, the increase was 24%, at Lone Star College, it was 33%, and at Texas Southern University, 35%.5

Removing the stigma from summer school can result in increased attendance for the K-12 crowd, as well. For example, in 2010, the Oconomowoc Area School District, Ohio, showed a 40% increase in summer school enrollment over a single year. Curriculum and instruction administrator Stephanie Leonard-Witte says, “It’s not this punitive institution it was in the past,” and that summer schools are no longer merely a last chance to make up lost ground.6


1 Guidelines for Summer School Attendance, Emory Law http://www.law.emory.edu/intranet/registrar/study-abroad/summer-school-attendance.html

2 Jack O'Connell, State Schools Chief Jack O'Connell Releases School District Budget Cuts Survey Results, California Dept. of Education News Release, Jun. 6, 2010 http://www.cde.ca.gov/nr/ne/yr10/yr10rel71.asp

3 Secretary Arne Duncan's Testimony Before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Regarding the FY 2011 Education Budget, U.S. Dept. of Education, April 14, 2010 http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/secretary-arne-duncans-testimony-senate-appropriations-subcommittee

4 A high school summer program at Harvard, Secondary School Program, Harvard Summer School, 2011 http://www.summer.harvard.edu/programs/ssp/default.jsp

5 Jeannie Kever, School's in for summer, Houston Chronicle, Jun. 3, 2010 http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7035774.html

6 Donna Frake, OASD summer school attendance surges, Living Lake Country, Sept. 29, 2010 http://www.livinglakecountry.com/oconomowocfocus/news/104039603.html