By Jessica Landgraf
NPR recently posted a story on the benefits to undergrads of reducing the number of 8 a.m. classes they have to take. Mariah Evans, a at the University of Nevada, Reno, noticed a consistent trend of students falling asleep in her 8 a.m. classes. This trend motivated Evans and her colleagues to conduct a study to find out if there was more than laziness to blame. Through this study, Evans and her colleagues found, similar to a large body of literature, that a majority of their students were “night owls.” This means that, biologically, these students will be more alert and ready to learn if they start classes around 10 or 11 a.m. instead of 8 a.m.
While K-12 schools have to take into account how a late start will impact busing schedules, afterschool programs, and extracurricular activities, higher education institutions have fewer such constraints. It begs the question then: Why haven’t they changed undergrad schedules?
The only examples that I was able to find of colleges or universities eliminating 8 a.m. classes were and Lake Superior State University in 2016. The reasoning behind these decisions, however, was not for the sake of sleep.
Duke University had 8 a.m. classes in many departments in response to the limited number of students who signed up for them. They instead scheduled a majority of classes between 10 and 2, but found that they were running out of classroom space at these preferred times. This policy thus backfired and the administration instituted a new schedule with 8:30 a.m. classes–hardly much of a change. Despite the recognition that sleep is important to students, who aren’t getting enough, scheduling classroom space does tend to get in the way of a practical solution.
Lake Superior State eliminated 8 a.m. classes to provide time for its new shared-governance initiative. While classes won’t begin until 9 a.m., Administration still expects that students will attend the University Senate or issue-specific committee meetings at the earlier hour.
These two examples don’t offer much hope that undergrad institutions will start eliminating 8 a.m. classes to benefit their students anytime soon. While colleges and universities should be concerned with how to produce optimal learning, which includes the timing of classes, other goals and considerations inhibit the ability of an institution to address this concern. There are only so many hours in the day, and unfortunately for “night owls,” many are in the early morning.
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