Potential students have more options than ever thanks to online courses and summer programs. Photo courtesy of Redeemer University College.

Summer programs path way for a new kind of student

Christian colleges and universities are offering more flexible education options

This story originally appeared in the print edition of ChristianWeek's Summer Learning feature. View it here.

Christian colleges and universities across Canada are glimpsing a new type of student emerging during the summer months. More flexibility in course offerings is attracting students who can’t commit to full time studies.

“We are seeing a greater interest in online education,” says Brian Westnedge, Director of Continuing and Distance Education at Briercrest College and Seminary in Caronport, Saskatchewan. “But this is as much about flexible options for our on-campus, dorm students as it is about attracting a new kind of student.”

Through Briercrest’s online offerings, Westnedge says they are able to serve students outside the traditional semester schedule.

“Online offering are only a part of the flexible options at Briercrest,” says Westnedge. “Our seminary is built around a flexible modular system, and in the college we offer one-week modular courses at strategic times throughout the year.”

A unique opportunity Briercrest offers is Summer Stage, where students and community members have a few weeks to prepare, rehearse, and perform theatre productions. Students learn quickly how to approach a production in a professional way in a Christian environment, outside the regular school year. This summer they are performing The Sound of Music and H.M.S. Pinafore.

However, Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, still sees an increasing demand for on-campus housing and the community that naturally develops in close quarters.

“The demand for on-campus housing reflects the commitment that we place on developing community,” Says Tim Wolfert, Director of Communications at Redeemer. “Our students are looking for a place where they can grow together with fellow students, but also with faculty and staff, intellectually, socially, spiritually and emotionally.”

Redeemer’s residences, where six to eight students live together in community, praying, studying, and eating together, are ideal for this focus on community.

While Redeemer has not invested a lot in alternative course offerings because they believe the best way to serve their primary group of students is through an on-campus educational experience, they do have a number of students who complete courses over the summer, mostly online. Redeemer also works to accommodate their students taking courses from other universities.

“It allows them the flexibility to take courses that we don’t offer,” says Wolfert. “Being able to ‘catch up’ on courses through the summer in this way gives them the freedom to pursue alternatives during their fall and winter semesters.”

Students can, for example, take a reduced course load in order to pursue a volunteer opportunity during a semester, knowing they can make up the course during the summer.

Redeemer also offers a summer program for in-service teachers which includes several weeks of courses and workshops that teachers can attend.

“Many of these courses include an online component as well, allowing teachers to connect not just during their class time on campus, but throughout the year in various collaborative projects.”

Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, does not have residential facilities, though many of the students live in community houses or shared apartments close by.

Having launched a Summer School program back in 1969, Regent’s Summer School offers a variety of course selections taught by faculty and many visiting scholars.

“The variety and scope of subject matter has long been a hallmark of Regent’s Summer School,” says Patricia Seto, Director of Enrollment Services at Regent College. “In fact, to improve access and flexibility for learners, Regent is offering more one week courses than ever before.”

Regent has been offering courses by distance education courses for over 25 years as well as condensed weekend courses in fall and winter, which allows students to complete a course over two or three weekends.

Seto says, “All these options are well subscribed to and Regent is looking at ways to offer more courses in these creative formats to be more flexible in addressing the needs of today’s graduate students.”

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