Adrian Guerra is cleaning his apartment before heading in for his 3 to 10 p.m. shift as a customer service rep at Publix. During his first two years as an integrated business major at UCF, Guerra would do his best to squeeze 10 hours of work between classes and studies each week. Since spring break, though, he’s been clocking 30 hours per week. He also started an internship with UCF Athletics, serves as a committee chair for the student ambassador program in the College of Business, and is heavily involved in student government.
Enrollment at UCF in the offbeat summer of 2020 is up over the routine summer of 2019. There are 6.6 percent more students taking 11.4 percent more credit hours than a year ago.
Oh, and there’s this: “I’m taking more credit hours than usual this summer.”
From her home in Kissimmee, Sabah Qureshi accepts a call on a Tuesday morning. Qureshi, a biomedical sciences major, has become remarkably productive from this very spot.
“I just finished a Zoom meeting … or class,” says the pre-med student. Qureshi’s instructor, after polling students at the beginning of the term, decided to set aside three hours to meet with them virtually six days a week. Qureshi is in as many of those as possible.
Like Guerra, she’s taking a bigger load of summer credit hours — a total of 12 between Summer A and Summer B terms — than normal. The Organic Chemistry II class from which she’s just logged out? It’s being offered as a summer class for the first time ever.
Qureshi and Guerra are part of a rising trend that’s also raising eyebrows: Enrollment at UCF in the offbeat summer of 2020 is up over the routine summer of 2019. There are 6.6 percent more students taking 11.4 percent more credit hours than a year ago. The increase spawns from a convergence of factors, including, of all things, the campus going quiet for the past three months.
“When we abruptly had to transition to remote instruction in mid-March, we were heading into uncharted waters. One concern that was top of mind was future enrollment,” says Theodorea Regina Berry, UCF’s vice provost of Student Learning and Academic Success and dean of the College of Undergraduate Studies. “We learned that the UCF community is resilient. We banded together to create an environment focused on student success. Our approach worked; enrollment for Summer 2020 is up.”
Guerra envisions himself being a human resources specialist for a resort in Florida sometime in the year 2022. You could say he’s wired for details. On March 10, hours after ending his shift at Publix, he was using Pegasus Path online to update his academic route toward “sometime in the year 2022” when he received a text from a friend. Then another. “Did you hear? UCF is closing campus.”
“My first thought was, ‘Oh no. This will set my plans back … maybe way back.’”
Qureshi heard the news while working in the office she uses as a teacher’s assistant in the biology department. “I figured the closure will be just a week, right? So I left a lot of my belongings in my cubicle.”
Those belongings are still there.
Berry was barely two months into her new position at UCF. During initial meetings with stakeholders across UCF, a topic of conversation was how to transform education by “supporting initiatives to take learning outside the classroom.”
“We learned that the UCF community is resilient. We banded together to create an environment focused on student success. Our approach worked; enrollment for Summer 2020 is up.”
— Theodorea Regina Berry
Reminded of this in early June while the classrooms remain empty, she laughs easily and says, “This is not what I had in mind.”
During the early days of responding to COVID-19, Berry dealt with the urgent tasks of getting students who were studying abroad home and determining how undergraduates would continue internships and co-ops.
“We realized that we were changing students’ learning plans and began to contemplate what that would mean for future enrollment,” says Berry. “We asked ourselves, ‘Would students return to UCF or transition to colleges closer to home?’ ”
Normally, Admissions, Enrollment Services, Institutional Knowledge Management, and the Registrar’s Office can predict shifts in advance. “In the midst of the pandemic, predicting was difficult,” Berry says.
UCF was ahead of the curve. It has more than 20 years of experience providing online courses. The university also made sure that students and faculty felt heard and supported.
Through conversations, common messages arose: Make classwork more flexible. Use simulcasts, webcams and livestreams. Make lessons available on dedicated YouTube channels. And, while you’re at it, why not offer more summer classes?
“Everything has led to creating more platforms for learning, so we are able to raise the bar to yet another level,” says Berry. “That does not mean we’ll stop doing what works for certain students. Some of them need the interaction in person. We happen to be working right now on ways to meet the needs of all students. We’re learning a lot and making adjustments to teaching and learning, and if we’re creating a better student experience, they’ll be permanent.”
Three months after wondering how deep into the 2020s he might be finishing his required classes, Guerra has a very different outlook: “I’m actually ahead of schedule.” Until this summer, two of his classes weren’t available online: Quantitative Business Tools II and Accounting for Decision Makers. “I’m working more hours. I don’t have to worry about rent. And I have more control of my time and my own path.”
“It can be challenging, but I have to look at it this way: By taking more classes now, I’ll have more time to focus on my internships and volunteer work after things open back up.”
— Sabah Qureshi
Qureshi is also using the availability of summer classes to expedite her track to medical school — and, eventually, to opening her own family clinic.
“It can be challenging,” she says, “but I have to look at it this way: By taking more classes now, I’ll have more time to focus on my internships and volunteer work after things open back up.”
The progressive actions taken as a result of conversations point to the factor that provides momentum in the flexibility-plus-availability equation. Berry noticed it when she came to visit UCF during a house-hunting trip in November 2019.
“I was struck by the relationships between the colleges and divisions and the dedication to student success,” Berry says.
When one instructor initially struggled to set up her remote lessons, Qureshi helped the instructor figure it out. Guerra’s professors, knowing he relies on his own electronic notes, are providing pdfs so he can mark them up and fully comprehend the material.
Enrollment is up. In the days after March 10, who would have thought?
“In hindsight, I think about the devotion of these students to UCF and vice versa,” says Berry. “And it’s clear to me that no one wants to give that up. Perhaps we never should have doubted.”