It has recently been brought to my attention that a subset of my department’s graduate student population is unhappy with our course scheduling. Some of our part-time graduate students feel that we are not doing a sufficient job of offering evening courses to meet the needs of people who work full-time during the day and complete their graduate degree one course at a time. I imagine the disgruntlement has been brewing for a while, but I suspect things are likely to come to a head soon, so I thought it might be worthwhile to spend some time laying my thoughts out here before it comes up in more official venues.
I am against accommodating our full-time worker, part-time graduate student students by moving a significant number of our classes to evening hours. There I said it. I don’t want to make life easier for someone who is working very hard to get through her education while supporting herself in full-time employment.
Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? I must be a stereotypical uncaring out-of-touch professor who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the hard lives of non-traditional students. Maybe I am, but before you reach that decision, let me tell you two things: 1) I worked 30 hours per week during my MS and I know how hard it can be to fit work around MWF 11-12 am classes, and 2) I have a non-zero number of graduate students who are working full-time and attending graduate school part-time and doing wonderfully. So when I say that I don’t want to accommodate those hard-working part-time grad students, I know what the repercussions are for them. But I think this is a case where accommodating a minority’s request would harm many more people than it would help. And if you think I have any credibility left on the subject, I encourage you to venture below the fold where I lay out my argument against night school graduate education in our department.
1) Our graduate program is not large enough to offer multiple sections of any courses. Moving a course to the evening to accommodate full-time workers moves it to the evening for everyone.
2) Some courses with outdoors labs cannot be taught in the evening without incurring significant safety risks or compromising the core goals of the course. And, because of #1, this affects the educational experiences of everyone taking the course.
3) Some of our graduate students have significant child and elder-care responsibilities. Moving courses to the evening either costs these (cash-strapped) students additional money and time with their families or prevents them from taking the course at all. My hypothesis would be that more current students would be inconvenienced by a move to evening classes than would be helped. A small informal poll provides preliminary data in support of my hypothesis.
4) For that matter, a lot of our faculty have significant child and elder-care responsibilities. Most of our children are in full-time daycare and if we were mandated to teach evening courses, we would have to find additional care for them and may not be able to see them at all on the days that we teach evening classes. While theoretically we could recoup that lost time by taking a morning or afternoon off, meetings will still end up getting scheduled in that time preventing us from doing so, and school-age kids aren’t generally allowed to be truant just to hang out with Mommy the morning after she had to work late.
5) At Mystery U, tenure-track faculty are expected to be developing internationally renowned research portfolios. Part of the success of a faculty member’s research depends on attracting top quality full-time graduate students on assistantships and promoting good interactions and collaborations amongst students. I am concerned that if we were to shift to a “night school” sort of schedule, we’d be less attractive to those really good students who would see us as less oriented to providing the full graduate school experience and more interested in raising numbers in classes. Also, good interactions between students become harder to promote if most people are just drifting in and out of the department in late afternoon and evening hours.
6) Everyone has access to our course schedule on-line. Any prospective student can check out what classes are offered when before deciding to apply. Or she can ask a faculty member whether we offer many evening classes. Those students who enter the program and then complain that we are surprisingly not offering night classes did not bother to do very much research. That does not speak well of their ability to succeed in graduate school.
7) I know of no employer that requires or pays for full-time workers to go to graduate school that does not allow some time off to attend courses.
8) If someone decides to go to graduate school part-time while working full-time, it seems to me that she is making a decision to invest in her future career. Such an investment comes with costs: tuition, fees, and maybe lost work time to attend classes. A careful investor weighs the costs and benefits before making a decision, and if she decides to proceed and enroll in our graduate program, she knows that the probable long-term gains outweigh the short-term pains.
9) I think three hour classes (the evening norm) are really hard to teach well, especially at the end of a long day.
I think any decision to change our graduate course scheduling should be preceded by careful study of its costs and benefits for all of the affected populations. In the meantime, I think we should continue to leave it up to faculty to arrange their class schedules wiki-style and make the decision that is best for their own lives, their sense of what serves the students best, and the particular curricular demands of the course. In this case, I am strongly in favor of the status quo.