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In Class From 8 a.m. to 9:50 p.m

July 2, 2008

Though some community colleges have done away with Friday classes in an effort to save money for themselves and their students, one Tennessee community college is offering its students another, even more consolidated scheduling option: Fridays only.

Citing the effects of high gas prices on the pocketbooks of its commuting students, Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tenn., is introducing what it calls “Full Time Friday” in the fall semester. This option allows for students to enroll in as many as four general education courses in sections that only gather during Friday meeting times. Though students do not have to enroll in a full day’s worth of classes to take advantage of this scheduling opportunity, some have already expressed to the college that they would have taken full advantage had it been offered to them in them past. More enterprising students, for example, could maintain their full-time status by taking all four Friday-only classes via this option. A potential downside is that such a student would be in class from 8 a.m. until just before 10 p.m. and spend almost 11-and-a-half hours sitting in the classroom. There is an hour break for lunch and two 30 minute breaks between afternoon and evening classes. Still, college administrators admit this schedule is not for the faint of heart.

“This is probably not the schedule for every student,” said Phyllis Foley, the college's dean of education and social science, adding that all those who enroll in the classes must be both highly motivated and disciplined to succeed. “It’s a long day. Some students may choose to take a few classes and not all of them.”

The forthcoming marathon Friday schedule is the brainchild of a meeting among a group of the college's deans that took place only about a month ago, according to Foley. The idea took shape in a matter of weeks and was only publicly introduced last week. She added that, though there is plenty of interest in “Full Time Friday” on campus, such interest was born out of the idea and not vice versa. Students, for example, can still carry a full-time course load taking classes the typical two or three days a week. This new option, Foley said, is a proactive way for the college to assist its financially strapped commuters, most of whom she estimates drive anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour in order to take classes. Additionally, with many local industries and businesses adopting a four-day work week, this option generates opportunity for non-traditional students who now may have Friday off from work.

“To a certain extent, we compete against for-profit [colleges and universities] that offer degrees in the Nashville area,” said Len Assante, chair of the college’s communications department, adding that there is definitely a market for this type of concentrated scheduling. “The advantage those programs have is their flexible scheduling. This is an alternative to that.”

If spending 11-and-a-half hours in a classroom every Friday for a semester does not sound appealing, students have the option of coming to class for a long day only once a month if they choose to enroll in an online/classroom hybrid version of “Full Time Friday.” In these classes, students will receive 75 percent of their instruction online and will receive the other 25 percent in the classroom when their classes meet, only five times a semester. Considering the rapid growth of online-only and hybrid class enrollment at the college, Assante said he believes these options have a better chance of survival than that of spending an entire Friday in the classroom every week.

“With a hybrid course, since so much of the work is online, you have the ability to spread the workload out,” Assante said, who has taught many courses of this sort outside of the new Friday-only schedule. “You have the ability to spread the workload out so you’re not constantly overburdened. The mental anguish would be a whole lot less.”

Considering the intense nature of this type of scheduling, administrators at the college are considering how best to advise their students if this option is suited for them. As there are currently no academic barriers to enrollment in “Full Time Friday,” Foley said advisers will have to take a student’s grade point average and previous academic course work in either high school or prior community college courses, among other informal assessments, into consideration before recommending it to him or her.

Despite counseling, Foley admits there will be students who will not complete the semester, having taking on more than they can handle. She added that she will treat students who approach her about the option much like she does full-time students who wish to take four classes online. Such options appear easy and manageable on paper, Foley said, but end up being much more challenging in reality. Assante, echoing some caution about the program, said he thinks there is no way to fully prepare a student for this type of workload.

“I don’t think even the students will know if they’re up-to-snuff enough,” Assante said of this new scheduling option, adding that he will also carefully advise students who consider the option. “I don’t think you can appreciate the rigors of a 14-hour day unless you’re in it.”

Though Foley noted this initial semester of the Friday-only scheduling option is tantamount to a college-wide experiment, she said “Full Time Friday” has the potential to expand if it is positively received by both students and faculty. She added that the college may add classes beyond the general education level, if interest remains high. For the moment, however, Foley said she is anxious to see how many students register and stay with the schedule for the entire semester.

This type of condensed scheduling at the community-college level intrigues some who recognize it as more typical of programs offering post-baccalaureate degrees. Rebecca Cox, a professor at Seton Hall University's College of Education & Human Services, helped conduct a national field study with the Community College Research Center on the effect of proprietary schools on community colleges. Though she said community colleges could potentially go too far to accommodate their students to the detriment of the courses they offer, Cox said the burden falls on the instructors as much as the format of the course to ensure its educational value.

"There's a lot of talk about competitive edge," Cox said of community colleges in relation to for-profit colleges. "They're looking to stay ahead of the game."

 

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