Research and Scholarship

Student Characteristics and Summer Enrollment: A Comparison of Earlier Research with Findings from Nationally Representative Data

  • Ken Smith
  • Katherine Read


Earlier research on small samples of students has identified certain characteristics of students who enroll in summer programs. This study analyzed these previously identified characteristics using enrollment data from a large, nationally representative sample from the 2008 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. Our research confirmed that the previously identified relationships of some characteristics such as age, class level, and residence hold true in the nationally representative data. Other prior findings about gender and choice of major, and their relationships to summer enrollment, were not confirmed. This study provides a background for institutions to compare the characteristics of their own populations of students with national patterns and to shape curriculum, marketing, and student support efforts to increase summer enrollment.

Enrollment in summer sessions is of significant benefit both to institutions and to students. For institutions, summer session enrollment enhances revenue, improves facility utilization, and facilitates other academic objectives (Doane & Pusser, 2005; Martin, 1997; Vedder et al., 2010). For students, participation in summer session is associated with improved retention, increased likelihood of degree completion, and enhanced contact with faculty members (Adelman, 2006; DiGregorio, 1997). For these reasons, summer session professional and other enrollment managers have a significant interest in maintaining and increasing enrollment in summer sessions. Therefore, understanding which students are more or less likely to attend in summer is a critical line of inquiry in summer session research.

There is a rich history of practical research into summer sessions, including studies of students’ interests and behaviors related to the choice to enroll in summer term. Much of the existing research on the characteristics of summer session students has been based, out of necessity, on samples of students from one or two institutions or groups of institutions in a single region. Findings related to these limited populations are valuable, but the demographic differences among students across institutions may make it difficult to apply research findings on students in a single institution or region in a meaningful way. To fill this gap in the literature, we conducted an earlier study of the predictive value of characteristics of students who enroll in summer using a nationally representative sample (Smith, 2011; Smith & Read, 2012).

How to Cite:

Smith, K. & Read, K., (2013) “Student Characteristics and Summer Enrollment: A Comparison of Earlier Research with Findings from Nationally Representative Data”, Summer Academe: A Journal of Higher Education 7. doi:

Download PDF



Published on
07 May 2013
Peer Reviewed