CHICAGO (AP) _ Ashley Tikkanen had a problem: She wanted to study abroad during college, but she also wanted to graduate on time.

The University of Chicago offered a solution: two-month language learning stints in Italy, Spain and France.

``I can't go to all these places for a year each,'' Tikkanen e-mailed from Malaga, Spain, where she will study Spanish until the end of July. ``Hopefully, I will be able to live abroad after school, but now my main concern is graduating and trying to have a little fun whenever possible.''

Enrollment in summer study abroad programs is on the rise as U.S. college students like Tikkanen look for ways to broaden their educational horizons without depleting their checking accounts or adding a year to college, experts say.

``Students are studying for shorter and shorter lengths of time,'' said Mary Dwyer, president of the Institute for the International Education of Students, a Chicago-based organization that works with study-abroad offices at more than 500 colleges and universities.

IES sent 277 students overseas this summer _ a 32 percent increase over last summer, Dwyer said.

She credited the surge in part to the good economy and a strong U.S. dollar. But she also said students are flocking to short-term programs, often during summer or winter breaks, as a way to experience another culture without delaying their own graduation.

``Students are increasingly majoring in subjects that are not as flexible in allowing them to take up time during the year,'' Dwyer said.

Todd Davis, director of the higher education resource group at the Institute of International Education in New York, said interest in short-term overseas programs has contributed to a steady increase in the number of Americans studying abroad.

The institute, which tracks study abroad trends, reported that in 1997-98, 9 percent of U.S. college students _ about 114,000 _ studied in foreign universities. That marked a 14 percent increase over the prior school year.

But the interest in short-term programs in particular comes with some misgivings.

Lewis Fortner, associate dean for undergraduate students at the University of Chicago, said students who study abroad for only a month or two miss out on the chance to fully immerse themselves in a foreign culture.

``One can say the real learning doesn't begin until several weeks after you arrive, and for shorter programs that's often the day you're leaving,'' Fortner said.

The University of Chicago offers $2,000 grants to qualified students to study a language abroad for at least eight weeks during the summer. The idea is to prepare students for longer periods of work or study overseas, Fortner said.

Patrick Quade, director of international and off-campus studies at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., said his school also offers short-term study sessions to whet students' appetites for longer programs. The private college sends more than 90 percent of its students overseas.

St. Olaf already has 520 students signed up for next January's monthlong programs, which send professors along with students on subject-specific trips. For example, a literature class in Cuba will focus on Ernest Hemingway.

Tikkanen received one of the University of Chicago's grants to study Spanish. She also stayed in Italy from March until June and plans to go to France next school year for another two-month session.

The 20-year-old junior conceded that a few months ``is not enough time to become fluent in anything.'' And she said it was hard to really ``live'' the culture.

``Culture shock is very real,'' Tikkanen said, ``and just as you are overcoming it, once again, you have to leave. ... But I think it's better to go abroad for just a little time than not go at all.''

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On the Net:

Institute of International Education: http://www.iie.org

Institute for the International Education of Students: http://www.iesabroad.org