Optimal class schedules depend on institutional and program mission

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgYesterday I wrote a post where I laid out reasons why I am opposed to night school courses in my graduate program. As I said yesterday, "I am against accommodating our full-time worker, part-time graduate student students by moving a significant number of our classes to evening hours." That post sparked a number of wonderful comments providing a variety of valuable perspectives on the role of night classes in serving various student populations. I didn't mean to come across as down on part-time grad students or the over all concept of night school. Let's see if I can lay out a more general framework for class scheduling.

As several of the commenters pointed out, there is a real place for night classes (even midnight classes, shudder) at the undergraduate, and maybe even the graduate levels. For institutions and programs who have made a conscious and informed decision to support the sort of students who will be best served by night classes, I'm all for it. There students and faculty enroll in the program or accept the job knowing that night classes are the norm, not the exception.

Even if a transition is to be made from a daytime schedule to an evening schedule, it could be OK if 1) teaching in the evening is entirely optional for all faculty (not just those with children) and face-time expectations are adjusted accordingly or 2) such a transition occurs over a long enough period where students who enrolled with the expectation of a daytime schedule can complete their degrees during the daytime and faculty that can't or won't teach at night have a reasonable chance of finding other employment (so, multi-year transitions are necessary).

Where I am against night classes is where they are a reactive move (thanks for the lesson, RJ) to satisfy a few squeaky wheels without consideration of the overall impacts. In general, I would still say that I am against mandatory scheduling of night classes where the institutional expectation is that graduate programs are research-intensive environments for full-time gradate students and where faculty are evaluated on that basis. In that case, I see more harm than good to both faculty and students in an ill-considered move to night schedules. And it is from that perspective that I wrote the original post.

In sum then I'd say exactly what my post title says: Optimal class schedules depend on institutional and program mission. Finally, I'd say that when contemplating a change of schedule, careful consideration should be made of the actual needs of the student population and not the perceived needs, as the two may be different.

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Are you taking into account the needs of potential students?

Some working adults will chose another school or program because they can't both earn a living and take classes at your school. This will reinforce the assumption that the students don't need it - because the ones who do need it go elsewhere, and you never count those in your math.

As a grad student, I saw both worlds - at SUNY-New Paltz, the majority of the students were freshly minted BAs, and the majority of classes were morning or afternoon. I had to turn down a very promising co-op position because the course schedule conflicted so drastically with normal work hours.
At Cleveland State, in contrast, a large number of students were full-time workers, because the program was designed to allow for them. Most required courses were offered in the evening (or both evening and afternoon), with no required courses offered before noon. This did no harm to the full-time students, and allowed the faculty to sleep in most days. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Are you taking into account the needs of potential students?

Very good point, bigbob. And, yes, I would like to see programs consider the needs of potential students as well. At the risk of sounding overly egg-headed, I think a department considering a major schedule change should talk to the nearest social scientist who knows how to conduct surveys and figure in likelihood of enrollment, etc. and actually get some DATA before making the move. That's where I was going with the actual versus perceived needs bit, but I had to post quickly before going to teach a (daytime, all-trad student) class. :)

I guess I'm coming back for more today.. better on this subject than some others in the blog world!

I think the rub, like most things, comes from the money issue. Needs of potential students suggests the program wants to shift, or better yet, increase the enrollment (and therefore $$). That is all fine and well... if it doesn't interfere with the historical "base" of the department.

My PhD program is another variation on these "competing" financial needs. The PhD program is fairly prestigious, lifting our college from regional U to R1 status within our field and drawing great faculty. Very few in the PhD program - teachers and students included - particularly love the night classes. Those who do tend to be the part-timers who are there for "advocacy" degrees and often do not finish, rather taking an MS instead.

BUT. With 3 different professional masters programs with 40 students/ entering year each, driving the college's finances, the PhD program has to bow to the reality that each of those professional masters programs REQUIRES at least a six month internship. Consequently, EVERYTHING is night classes to all all to cross list if they should so desire even if the cross over rarely happens.

So what you say? What is harm is there in scheduling all grad classes after 4pm? Not to pick on bigbob, but I take issue with it doesn't harm anyone. Some grad programs struggle to maintain community. We have struggled to find avenues to replace the lunch brown bag (no one on campus at noon since we are all there until 9:30) and the happy hour social (in classes). Like I alluded to yesterday, I knew the gig when I came, but still frustrating to live it.