Monday, September 14, 2009

Ask the Administrator: Activity Hour

A new correspondent writes:

We just learned that our administration wants our spring schedule revised (campus-wide) to include a break from 12:00 - 1:30 every MWF. For those of us in the lab sciences that run classes in two and three hour blocks, this is certainly cause for some hair pulling. We are having trouble finding a way to accommodate the break. We haven't been given a reason for the schedule change other than it would allow all faculty to be available at the same time for committee meetings and such. I would like to know if other schools have a similar break in the class schedule. What length of break and how many times a week?

Also, I feel like this will actually decrease enrollment although the administrative message this year has been "increased enrollment, we want increased enrollment". My lab classes will be pushed from 2-4 to 3:30-5:30. What student can and will take a class that runs until 5:30, particularly on a Friday afternoon? We have a female majority student body and a significant portion are women with family responsibilities. A very informal poll of my classes leads me to believe that no student (out of a sampling of ~100) would take the class in that time slot. Am I just so unaccustomed to this idea that my initial (knee-jerk) reaction of "oh no!" is wrong and that this could be a good thing? Insight, advice, and anecdotal evidence of success would be great!

I did a piece on this a few years ago, but think it may be worth revisiting.

Activity hours, or "college hours," serve two major purposes. They allow student groups to meet, since students won't have classes during those times. For commuter campuses in particular, this is a very big deal, though I imagine it matters somewhat less for residential campuses. And they allow faculty committees to meet, since the major logistical obstacle has been neutralized. (That's especially true at cc's, since faculty here generally have more classes than they do elsewhere.)

I've never known a college to hold 'college hour' completely inviolate. Enrollment pressures, lab/studio classes, and offsite obligations (nursing clinicals, say) each exert pressure, especially at prime time. Holding college hours outside of prime time can reduce their cost, but it also reduces their effectiveness. How many students (or faculty, for that matter) will stick around for a 3:00 meeting on Friday afternoon?

Whether activity hours are worthwhile depends on your evaluation of the activities they make possible. At the Snooty Liberal Arts College I attended, all classes ended by 4:00. That allowed for athletics until about 7:00, followed by meetings and free time. At a commuter college, things just don't work that way. Making extracurriculars available to cc students requires acknowledging the fact that most of them will be on campus only when they have classes, so sandwiching activities between classes is the only way to make large-scale participation realistic.

The folks who study graduation rates routinely report that students who get involved in campus activities graduate at much higher rates than those who don't. To what extent that's a function of self-selection, I don't know, but common sense suggests that self-selection and a positive effect aren't mutually exclusive.

As far as faculty and administrative meetings go, I'll just note that the alternative to faculty participation in governance is faculty non-participation in governance. Participation requires meetings. It just does.

Wise and worldly readers, I'll ask the same question I asked in 2006. Has your college found a reasonably elegant way to handle activity hour?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.