Friday, August 15, 2003

Why do I have the summer off? 

So asks the president of George Washington University.
Universities typically operate for slightly more than half the year -- generally two 14-week semesters. And aside from some summer-school programs, we barely use our facilities at all for three months of the year. This practice, it seems to me, wastes time that we could use for instruction, undervalues our facilities, which stand idle, and costs us money, because we could actually enroll more students and earn more tuitions if we operated more of the year.

Imagine that instead of two 14-week semesters each academic year, we had three trimesters -- with, of course, appropriate vacations between them. Students and faculty would be on campus for two out of three trimesters. We could actually increase our enrollment at the George Washington University by at least a thousand students, yet have fewer students on campus at any one time. In that way, there would be less competition among our students for housing, classes and all our amenities, yet more income for the university and lower prices for students. This would, moreover, please the city zoning authorities and our neighbors by reducing the university population at any one moment.

I wonder what GWU does for summer school. Here we had almost 6000 students taking at least one course in the summer 2002. By a very conservative estimate summer school pulls in about $4.5 million (I didn't have credit hour data to make a better guess, just full- vs. part-time enrollments, so I guessed that part-timers took 1.5 classes on average). Salaries for summer school were under $2.2 million. Cooling the buildings should be a sunk cost (except on Fridays) so we're clearing well over $2 million. How much more would we make on a trimester schedule?