Ravell Call, Deseret News
FILE — Kevin Reyes studies at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Thursday, March 5, 2015. For the first time, new students at the college can enroll in a condensed eight-week semester for an expanded array of courses this year.

SALT LAKE CITY — For most college students in Utah, fall semester began weeks ago. But students at Salt Lake Community College are getting a chance to start late and still finish on time.

For the first time, new students at the college can enroll in a condensed eight-week semester for an expanded array of courses this year. Instead of having to wait until traditional fall, spring or summer enrollment dates, they can sign up for the shorter courses mid-semester.

Historically, the college has allowed students to begin career and technical education courses in the second half of a semester. The college is now offering almost 90 general education courses through an eight-week schedule, with more than 2,300 total seats.

The admission application deadline for the alternative schedule is Sunday, and classes will begin the week of Oct. 10. More than 1,600 students had signed up for the eight-week general education courses as of Friday.

College leaders hope the new scheduling format will give students more opportunities to enroll if traditional fall and spring starting dates don't work for them.

"The difference in this case is that we are specifically creating classes that would be taken by students new to the college who, for instance, are returning from LDS missions or who were just displaced from a job and need to be able to start school without waiting until the start of spring," said Nate Southerland, assistant provost for academic support. "It's, in essence, an opportunity for a new start."

When Ryan Relf heard about the alternative schedule from his academic adviser, he immediately said, "Yep, sign me up. It sounds great."

Relf will be finishing an eight-week computer assisted drawing class later this month. Having the added flexibility makes going to school and working full time easier, he said.

"School can kind of be a grind sometimes, especially if you're working, which a lot of SLCC students are working while going to school," Relf said. "I think it's beneficial to them because they don't want to be in school. They just want to be doing their profession. So the eight-week program allows them to get that certificate and then get back and do their work."

Southerland said some logistics of expanding eight-week course offerings have been challenging, such as finding classroom space during peak hours or finding qualified part-time faculty. But college leaders still plan to continue the new schedule in the future, with eight-week course offerings in spring, summer and fall semesters.

He said he and other college leaders hope the alternative offerings will help new students avoid the "sitting and waiting" period that can happen after coming home from a church mission or leaving the workforce months before the start of a new semester.

"I think the biggest thing is the recognition that people's lives don't follow a semester schedule, so increasing the number of options for people to start more frequently was important to us," he said. "It accelerates their progress."

Southerland said college administrators don't expect the additional offerings to give students cause to procrastinate their enrollment because most students still prefer traditional semester-long courses. Educators hope it will encourage students to enroll full time, improving their chances of graduating.

"The one caution we try and give students is when they're signing up for both semester-length and half-semester-length classes, we simply caution them that these half semester-length classes are twice as intense and to balance their lives accordingly," he said.

Relf said he wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's definitely more concentrated, it's definitely more intense, but that's how I feel like school should be. I feel like sometimes we're trying to meet the whole length of the semester, but in this shorter class, I get in there and I'm busy from as soon as I get in there to when I leave. I like that. It makes the class go by a lot faster than a normal semester," he said. "I wish all the classes were eight-week classes."

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