Miami University adds January term to broaden student horizons

On-campus classes, study abroad among choices

OXFORD – Opportunity is knocking for Miami University students to add a minor, travel abroad or ease their semester course load with the introduction this January of a winter term, a first for Ohio’s public universities.

The term, which will run Jan 2-25, is tacked onto winter break and offers students the opportunity to broaden student choices in multiple ways, including: 

• Study Abroad: Students who may not be able to afford a whole semester abroad or are constrained by coursework can use winter term for a more compact trip.
• Early graduation: Freshmen who take one course each winter term can graduate a semester early.
• An extra major or minor: For those who want to pack it in, course work in winter term can enable adding another line of study.
• Co-ops and domestic studies: Employers are already designing short internships to accommodate the term.
• Extra dough: Students on a tight budget can stay home and make extra money working to help pay for their regular tuition.
• Life of Reilly: This year, at least, most students are opting out and enjoying a monster break between semesters. 

Among Miami’s 21,000-plus undergraduates, nearly 1,600 had registered for winter term classes at last count. Administrators are excited by that participation level, having prepared themselves for a much smaller response based on the case of University of New Hampshire, a school of about 15,000 undergraduates that drew 400 students to its inaugural winter term recently.

“I’m excited because I’ve done a lot of work talking with students, and with few exceptions, students are ecstatic about it,” said Michael S. Kabbaz, the associate vice president of enrollment management who led the winter term implementation team.

Enrollment High

Miami took the opportunity to reexamine its academic calendar when Ohio converted its schools that ran on quarters to semesters and shortened semesters for Miami and others to 15 weeks from 16 weeks.

As a result, Miami starts a week earlier – the same week that University of Cincinnati and Ohio State begin – and hold spring graduation a week later.

Programs in Australia, resort marketing and management at Disney World and traditional course offerings on campus are among the options that at least 1,570 students are taking advantage of in the inaugural effort. Some programs start as early as Dec. 27 to maximize the time students spend abroad, Kabbaz said.

Students can take intensive courses for three credit hours on campus and online. For some, it’s a chance to complete one of the core classes required of all students in order to devote more time during a semester to particularly tough courses in their majors.

We heard from a number of science students taking a hard organic chemistry course in spring about taking a core class in January,” Kabbaz said.

For others, it’s a chance to delve deep into their major or minor with labs or case studies that can last half a day. “The whole idea is that these students immerse themselves in one topic or another,” he said.

Kabbaz and others at the university asked teachers, administrators and students for input about the idea. Many students said they were worried about additional costs. To that end, the university established financial aid specific to winter term.

“We have need-based financial aid,” Kabbaz said. “This is about students having access. We’re committed to making that an option for everyone.”

Wedged between Miami’s full semesters, the term is designed to let students step out of their academic routine.

“This is an opportunity for students who may have to work in the summer and don’t have it in their ability to take a whole semester (to branch out),” said Dr. Maria L. Cronley, interim dean and a professor of marketing who worked with the student senate on the idea.

A winter term, sometimes called a January term or J-term, has been in place for decades at many private universities, many of which Miami competes.

Long Time Coming

Miami’s version has been a long time coming. Conversations and development started several years ago by Provost Bobby Gempesaw.

“We talked to multiple stakeholders across the university, literally from the provost all the way down to janitorial staff and physical plants about how it would impact operations,” Cronley said. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

The term is already being used in interesting ways, she said. Several students have told her that they’ll take one or more courses  during the winter term to lighten their class load during full semesters, freeing up time to pursue extracurricular passions.

“Some are very traditional classes for students who want to get ahead or who need to catch up or for students who want to add a minor,” Cronley said.

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