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A cohort of classes between Fall and Spring semesters, usually about two to three weeks long, that offer the same number of credits as the traditional 15-week courses, has been gaining popularity at community colleges. About half of the community colleges in the Campus News coverage area now have what are termed Winter Session, Winterim, or Intersession courses, typically starting soon after Christmas and ending around Martin Luther King Day, give or take.

Students see the courses as a way to either catch up from the previous semester – say they had originally signed up for 15 credits but had to drop a 3-credit course – or to get ahead for the next semester, bettering their odds of graduating on time.
And it seems that students aren’t too picky as to which campus they attend for these sessions. They can take the shortened courses at their current campus, a neighboring campus or online, say at SUNY Canton (at lowered New York State prices for state residents).

Dr. Thomas Hamel, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Oakton Community College in Illinois, responded to our online reporter’s query:

“Oakton Community College has offered a Winterim term for the past four years. It begins at the end of fall semester final exams, and it ends by the Friday of faculty Orientation week for spring semester. We do not hold face-to-face classes from December 24 through January 1, though many instructors require online work during that time.

“Most Winterim offerings are standard three-credit courses, though some of the courses are one- or two-credit offerings. Clearly, this condensed format is not for all students or all instructors or all curricula. But it can and does work well for courses that combine moderate amounts of reading, moderate amounts of hands-on work or collaboration, and both face-to-face and online interactions. The format also works well for curricula that depend on sustained or immersive study.

“Over the past four years we have learned that our Winterim students are highly successful. They have persistence, completion, and success rates higher than the general college population. Faculty often report that Winterim students are highly motivated and responsible. Our Winterim term is small, but it has an ardent following.”

Dr. Hamel added that about half of the students who take such courses at his college are “reverse transfer” – students from four-year colleges just getting some credits while home on break.

Though some four-year schools may stop taking credits from abbreviated courses. This summer, we reported that Hofstra was only taking Hofstra summer credits for transfer. Middlesex Community College in New Jersey warns students: “Generally, most all colleges do accept the credits earned for courses taken during the MCC Winter Session with one exception, Rutgers – New Brunswick Campus. Rutgers – New Brunswick, specifically the School of Arts & Sciences, has announced specifications for the transferability of courses in certain departments. These specifications speak to the length of time a class must meet and the location where the class is presented.”

No expert responded to our query as to whether shortened courses were or weren’t as educationally enriching as longer courses, but an informal poll of about a dozen community college students reported that they all would take the courses if given the chance, and they saw no educational devaluation of such offerings.