The price of economy gasoline in and around Huntsville, Ala., is at about $3 a gallon, a little above the national average. As it climbed to that level in recent weeks, faculty and staff members at Calhoun Community College heard increasing griping from students about the toll that commuting to class was putting on their already tight budgets. Most of the two-year college's students live within 25 to 30 miles of the college's primary campus in Decatur, Ala., but some travel from Birmingham or southern areas of Tennessee, an hour or more away.
Calhoun administrators brainstormed to "see if there were any alternatives we could come up with that would make it easier on their pocketbooks," says Janet Martin, director of public relations for the college.
They decided to alter the Decatur campus's class schedule for the spring term so that all courses that now meet for 50 minutes each Monday, Wednesday and Friday will instead be held just Mondays and Wednesdays, for an hour and 15 minutes each. (Calhoun will also offer two class periods on Friday morning, designed specially for part-time students who want to fit their six credit hours into one day a week.) The college won't decrease any of its other offerings or services for students on Fridays in the spring semester, which starts January 9.
The change is designed to save students at least one roundtrip to the campus. That can add up for someone like Kimberly Reliford, who now commutes to Decatur five days a week from Morgan City, Ala., more than 30 miles away. The round trip in her 1994 Ford Ranger pickup eats up nearly a quarter of a tank, which is about $10 these days, says Reliford, a first-generation college student who is paying for her Calhoun education with a Pell Grant and a scholarship.
"Now I'll be able to get everything done I need to in four days instead of five, says Reliford, who expects to graduate next year with an associate degree in computer information systems. She gives Calhoun credit, she says, for recognizing students' needs and doing something about it.
"They really are interested in the students," she says. "They're not just doing their jobs, they really care about the community."
While college officials designed the change to help students, they are finding that faculty members like the idea, too.
"A lot of faculty are happy about being able to keep students in class for an hour and 15 minutes," says Martin. "In 50 minute classes, you lose a lot of instruction time" when students come in and get settled at the beginning and pack up at the end, "so two longer classes may end up being a good thing" academically.