Summer cum laude in Saratoga Springs

May 24, 1996

Things begin to heat up at Skidmore College, a liberal arts college in Saratoga Springs, up-state New York, when the students leave for the summer.

Children as young as six arrive for basketball and tennis lessons. Retirees study topics ranging from conservative religion to the poetry of love. Teenagers move into the dormitory rooms for summer school. And some of the United States' top artists teach theatre, jazz, writing and dance workshops.

The campus hosts more than twice as many people in the summer as in the academic year, some no doubt attracted by the nearby mineral baths, Revolutionary War battlefield and historic horse track.

"It's alive here in the summer," said Donald McCormack, Skidmore's dean of special programmes. "It's totally vital and it's a very eclectic place."

Once deserted in the summer months, university and college campuses are being filled to bursting by conventions, seminars, athletic and cultural programmes and other activities meant to keep the buildings and grounds in use Q and money coming in.

Everything from weddings to flyfishing institutes are planned on campuses this summer. As tuition costs rise, more students are staying through the summer months to hasten the completion of their college education.

"You simply have to use your campus in the summer," said Les Coyne, director of summer programmes at Indiana University and secretary of the Association of University Summer Sessions. "You've got the capital investment, you've got the overhead investment and you've got the administrative investment. Summer has to be looked at in terms of maximising those investments. In the past the summer has been underutilised."

An association survey last year found that summer capus programmes today comprise a $1 billion-a-year business. Two-thirds of all four-year institutions offer summer sessions. And there is plenty of time to fill. Universities are in session for about 28 weeks a year. Most will close their doors to students this month and reopen at the end of August.

The University of Montana in the rural northwest is booked solid for the next two summers by groups ranging in size from a few dozen to 400. Programmes planned include a conference on AIDS, a programme for the newly blind, a maths and science camp for children and a fly-fishing institute.

"It gives us the opportunity to make better use of our facilities and generate additional revenue," said Craig Roloff, university assistant vice president for administration. "Any kind of net return you have from summer conferences in the end can go to reducing costs."

It is not only institutions that benefit. Organisations from Boy Scout councils to medical specialists have found dormitories less expensive than hotels and cafeterias more cheaper than restaurants. Students can get work in the summer as receptionists, lifeguards, and so on, helping pay for their tuition.

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