Student Interest Remains High in J-Term, Despite Recession

December 08, 2009
December 8, 2009 — Despite the ongoing recession, student interest remains high in the University of Virginia's January Term, with more than 600 students registered to take classes in the sixth annual session.

The "J-Term," initiated in 2005, is a two-week program offered to all University students wishing to take additional courses during the holiday recess. Students may take only one three-credit course, with each class meeting four hours per day for 10 days.

The program is intended to "provide U.Va. students with unique opportunities: new courses that address topics of current interest, study abroad programs, undergraduate research seminars, and interdisciplinary courses," according to the official Web site.

Preliminary enrollment in on-Grounds J-Term courses appears to be up compared to last year, while enrollment in study-abroad programs has dropped slightly, said Dudley Doane, director of international, summer and special academic programs.

In January 2009, 154 students participated in overseas academic programs, while only 144 plan to study abroad this year – a slight dip that Doane attributes to the recession.

"Frankly, I expected a more dramatic effect than we've seen," he said.

He added that the program has seen relatively stable enrollment for the last three years, and that the number of on-Grounds courses offered this year term is not dramatically different from previous years. The University is offering nine study-abroad programs this term, up from the eight offered the past two years.

More than 500 students plan to take part in one of the 29 on-Grounds courses offered during J-Term, ranging from popular political lectures to sociology classes.

American Politics 3500 will examine "The Politics of Food." Taught by associate professor Paul Freedman, the course will assess the recent controversies penetrating the food industry, such as those dealing with environmental law and health issues.

Sociology 2500, "Prozac Culture," will be taught by research associate professor Joseph Davis. The class will explore "the social forces driving the pharmacological revolution forward, including the definition and expansion of disorder categories and shifts in the ethos of medicine toward a consumerist model, and how these are linked with wider social and cultural changes," according to the course description. The class will examine the positive and negative consequences of the recent increase in psychiatric drugs.

While these courses may seem interesting enough to entice students to stay at school over the winter recess, other factors may be at work in students' willingness to sacrifice some of their physical and mental vacation.

"I think students are using J-Term to help them double-major, but also to accumulate credits so that they may take a reduced academic load spring and fall semester, and thus have more time to participate in activities of interest to them," Doane said. "We're not entirely sure, but some may even be using the term to graduate early."

Students agreed. During J-Term, second-year Abby Ciucias plans on taking Drawing 2, a prerequisite for other classes she hopes to take in the spring semester.

"It's a lot of class time," she added, "but it's also the only class I'm taking, so I can devote my full attention to it."

Ciucias added that she hopes to receive "more personal attention" from the professor because of the small class size – a factor that Doane highlighted as part of the allure of J-Term.

He added that the session gives students the opportunity to pursue topics that they may not have time to take during the fall or spring semesters. For instance, "Beyond the Second Year: Academic Realities and Skills" is an education seminar designed to teach students skills for their higher-level classes. Such skills include techniques for reading complex, lengthy articles and ways of managing stress and overbooked schedules.

One of the more striking overseas courses takes place in St. Kitts and Nevis, a nation comprising two islands in the West Indies, where students will travel and learn the "fundamentals of emergency care," according to the course description.

Taught for the second consecutive year by Dr. Marcus L. Martin, interim vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity and a professor of emergency medicine, "Disaster Preparedness in the West Indies" will give students an opportunity to work with foreign health professionals by participating in simulated disaster exercises at the renowned International University of Nursing. At the end of the term, students will be eligible to obtain certifications in CPR and first aid.

In addition to the courses and drills offered at the local medical centers, the students will visit hospitals and community clinics throughout the island, as well as a rain forest and botanical garden.

Faculty members say their January Term courses are the most "satisfying teaching experiences of their careers at U.Va.," Doane said, though he adds the program can be "exhausting."

"J-Term is not for the faint-hearted," he said. "In J-Term, students are self-selecting. They're here because they want to be."

Tuition rates for the January Term are consistent with those of the summer session. Students pay by the credit hour and must pay at the time of registration if enrolling after Dec. 4.

Doane said that the implementation of the new Student Information System may have also had a positive effect on enrollment rates for domestic courses.

"Some of the increase we've seen in enrollment of domestic courses may be attributable to the fact that it's just easier to enroll," he said. "Because of limits with ISIS in the past, J-Term registration was in person and payment was collected at the time of registration. With SIS, everything has been online. Students were able to register just as they would for spring and fall courses."

— By Ashley Mathieu