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VCU will offer three “minimesters” this spring that will allow students to take accelerated classes and explore new topics. (Getty Images)

What to know about the new mini-semesters VCU is launching this spring

The three “minimesters” will provide students an opportunity for accelerated coursework — and a chance to explore new topics.

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Virginia Commonwealth University is offering a group of shorter-length courses this spring in a series of mini-semesters that will allow students to take accelerated classes and explore new educational topics. The three “minimesters” — a five-week February term (Feb. 15 to March 19), an eight-week spring minimester (March 8 to May 5) and a five-week March term (March 29 to May 4) — are designed to provide students with scheduling flexibility, particularly amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about minimester offerings here.

“The goal of the minimesters is to allow students who may have desired a longer break between the fall and the spring to, instead of taking a semester off, still be able to take some courses, or a course that will allow them to be engaged and continue on their pathway to education but in a short accelerated time frame,” said Tomikia LeGrande, Ed.D., vice president for strategy, enrollment management and student success. “We offer courses in a similar fashion in between semesters [during Intersession and J-Term] and students have found this to be an attractive option. So we decided to replicate this option during the spring 2021 semester to provide greater flexibility to students in course offerings.”

Students can register for minimester classes now and departments have until Feb. 22 to add classes to the second and third terms. Courses include a class on the physics of baseball and one on theater appreciation, an interdisciplinary exploration of food and a course on pseudoscience that critically evaluates controversial fringes of scientific inquiry. There are shorter-term registration windows for each minimester right before they start. Registration and add/drop dates are listed on the university academic calendar.

LeGrande talked to VCU News about the new minimesters, some of the classes offered and how the structure of mini-terms provides flexibility for students.

What should students know about the minimesters?

VCU is piloting some small short-term courses within the spring semester to give students a sampling of options in which they may decide to do some accelerated coursework.

These sessions allow students a variety of ways in which they could remain connected and engaged with VCU. We know that when students take semesters off, the likelihood they will return quickly sometimes becomes challenging. We wanted to keep our students engaged in the VCU learning process. While many students are not necessarily excited about a fully online education, they sometimes find that it's a great modality to take in a very short-term situation.

Do the credits reflect the mini-ness of these classes?

The credits are based on the approved robustness of the content and the number of contact hours. So even in those mini-terms, while it meets for a shorter number of weeks, students still have to make all of the contact hours that they would in order to get three credits for the course. That's what makes it an opportunity that people find exciting because they still get the same number of credit hours for a course, but they do it in a compressed time frame.

Find minimester classes

View a full listing of courses being offered during VCU’s minimesters:

- Visit the Schedule of Classes website

- Select “Spring 2021” from the drop-down menu

- Click “advanced search”

- In the “attribute” field, begin typing “February-term,” “March-term” and “Spring minimester.” The fields will populate once you start typing. Make sure all are selected.

- Click “search”

How did this particular roster of courses come together?

We asked schools and colleges in a very short period of time to think about doing this. The classes are mostly lower-division courses where departments felt like they could engage students in a meaningful way. So far we have courses in the College of Humanities and Sciences, from the School of Business, and from the School of the Arts. That variety of courses allows people to see what the possibilities are. One course is a theater appreciation course, for example. [We want] students to have the opportunity to take courses that they're excited about or interested in, that we think will keep them motivated to continue pursuing their degrees.

Are the courses synchronous or asynchronous?

Each course is different, so that would be identified on the schedule. The modality of whether the course is online, hybrid, blended or face to face, and then whether it's synchronous or asynchronous, all of that is on the schedule and identified based on the instructor.

Who are these classes for?

The courses are for any VCU students interested. There are some students who are registered for a minimester course that are also registered in 16-week courses. But we want to ensure that we're offering something for those individuals who just really felt like they wanted to step away for a semester to positively support their mental health or because their personal circumstances in this COVID-19 environment they found it challenging to be in a full 16-week online semester. Our goal was to offer students different options, because we know we have a diverse student population. The question is how we tailor what we offer to meet the various needs of our students, knowing that one size won't fit all.

How do financial-aid packages play into these minimester classes?

For the students who are taking courses in the 16-week session, those students oftentimes will have financial-aid packages that will cover this. There are limitations on financial aid. In order to qualify, to be eligible for some type of aid, a student has to be registered for at least six credit hours across the full semester. Six credit hours is often two courses. What I would encourage is that each student, if they're interested in taking mini-session courses, should reach out to their academic adviser and their financial counselor, both of whom students can find in the Navigate platform. They can help them think about financial options and payment plans.