During the summer, Tennessee college campuses can look a lot like ghost towns.
Most students, seeking respite from tests and early morning classes, head home to reconnect with friends, work or just take a break.
But that tradition may be changing, University of Tennessee officials say.
"We are studying how to make summer school a bigger and a more important part of the university," said Roger Brown, chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "Our campus needs to be used more intensively during the summertime."
The shift could help students get degrees more quickly and improve graduation rates, officials said.
To make it happen, the Legislature should approve a bill to provide HOPE scholarship dollars for summer school, UT officials said.
HOPE scholarships now cover only fall and spring semesters, so summer students must pay their own costs.
"We are really lobbying for a summer HOPE scholarship," Dr. Brown said. "It is a good use of money."
But offering the lottery scholarship year round would increase spending by $4.9 million in fiscal year 2010, a Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee report says.
Will Pinkston, a senior advisor to Gov. Phil Bredesen, said allowing the HOPE scholarship to cover the summer term could speed up college degree completion rates and help save the state money.
But the proposal's timing may be off, he said.
"If there was a clear fiscal rationale that it would cost the same amount of money because it would take students less time to finish college, then there could be a lively discussion about that," said Mr. Pinkston. "But anything that is going to put more cost in that process is going to be a nonstarter in this budget environment."
A year-round scholarship funding bill was proposed in February by Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, and Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and reviewed by the Senate and House education committees.
Under the bill, students at a four-year school taking between six and eight credit hours during the summer would be eligible for a $1,000 award; students taking between nine and 11 hours would be eligible for $1,500; and students taking 12 or more hours would receive $2,000.
Community college students who register for between six and eight credits would earn $500; two-year students with nine to 11 hours would be eligible for $750; and students with 12 or more credit hours would be eligible for $1,000.
Students say denying accessing to scholarship dollars in the summer forces them, in many cases, to drag out their degree past four years and limits their flexibility.
"I think a student should be able to determine when they want to use the HOPE scholarship because I don't think they are taking into consideration students' situations," said UTC student Dominique Copeland, who had the HOPE scholarship and paid to attend summer school. "Maybe they want to graduate early. At least have the option. Not having the HOPE during that time could prolong graduation."
State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, sits on the Senate Education Committee. He said if colleges really believe that making the lottery scholarships available will encourage more students to take summer classes, then legislators will take the idea seriously.
Although there is no shortage of lottery-related legislation -- more than 100 bills have been proposed this year -- this idea could get traction, he said.
"Summer school would be a great use of HOPE scholarship money," said Sen. Berke. "We want to encourage graduation and allow that to happen quicker."
Dr. Brown said UTC also is looking to improve its summer course selections and encourage professors to teach them.
Faculty members, who typically work on nine-month contracts, get paid extra to teach summer courses. Younger faculty usually use the summer to conduct research and write academic papers and books. They may need to be compensated more to teach during that time, Dr. Brown said.
"We have to make it more attractive to faculty," he said.
Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...