Bruce's Blog

Jan. 4, 2010

Why doesn't Western offer night classes?

I have been asked that question a lot. In those first-year 90 listening sessions and ever since. So, I have started asking the question of you in various and assorted venues. I have been getting very consistent answers.

The basic answer is this: we, faculty, are quite willing to offer such courses and we have tried. But, the students just will not attend. I am sure that has been the case but I do wonder if we might not try in different ways.

It is my impression that we offer a far smaller percentage of night classes than do other largely residential, undergraduate universities like ours. Just an impression and I’ve asked for some actual data. But, if the impression is right, then is there something unusual about our students that explains their unwillingness to attend? Not anything I can think of.

So, I wonder if we are offering the right courses at night. I always taught an evening seminar one evening a week. The three consecutive hours suited my pedagogical approach to a true seminar experience and I had more time free during the day for other obligations. And, there were always students waiting to get in. Would like to think it was because I was a great teacher. But, I also knew that a number of departments had a requirement and my course was one of only two or three courses that would meet the requirement.

In the “100 Conversations” efforts and for those involving parents of current students, every parent so far has talked about the difficulty that their son or daughter has had getting the courses they need. Now, we know that, “not getting the course I need” often means “cannot get the course I want (although there are others that would meet the requirement)” or “cannot get the course I want at the time that fits most conveniently into my (often complicated by work obligations) schedule.” But, that suggests to me that there are opportunities, that by judiciously picking courses (and holding the line on over-enrollment waivers where alternatives exist), it would be possible to shift to more evening classes.

There are a couple of reasons why this is important. Certainly, I hear from the community about their interests in being able to work toward degrees – or enrich their lives – by being able to take classes outside of normal working hours.

But, I think we need to be talking about ways to expand capacity for another reason. As the economy turns around, the currently most certain state priority will be the provision of additional access to baccalaureate education. The advantage of state funded growth is that we receive average cost funding and that is above marginal cost, thereby allowing for reinvestment in the quality of the education of all students.

That preceding principle is well understood and many will be waiting in line to meet the state’s needs for expanded access to baccalaureate education. Here, we seem to have placed ourselves in a bind by concluding that we can take no more students. That follows, perhaps, from preference (set at a time when we were considerably smaller) and a decade of repeating the belief more than from any objective analysis of our capacity; like anything else on a university campus, the assumption is something we should feel free to question. We do need to think creatively about ways to expand access off our campus, through partnerships with other entities, increasing use of “hybrid” classes when learning can be assured or enhanced by so doing. And, perhaps, by offering the numbers of night classes that would be typical on a campus of our type and size.



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