Opinion: Embracing the nontraditional: Why colleges should shift away from early morning classes

For the average college student, a daily class schedule can feel a lot like a full-time job. With classes starting as early as 8 a.m. and often going into early afternoon, along with the additional responsibilities of homework, extracurriculars, and work, many students are trying to balance multiple tasks at one time.

Contributing to this busy schedule is a lack of sleep. A 2017 study reported that 60% of college students are not getting enough sleep, hindering their ability to learn. The CDC reports adults 18 years and older need seven or more hours of sleep per night and the majority of college students do not meet that requirement.

A 2017 study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience by Mariah Evans, Paul Kelley and Johnathan Kelley sought to address this issue, and how higher education could combat the problem. The answer, it discovered, may lie in class start times.

With traditional college schedules beginning at 8 a.m., many students are not their most productive or most engaged selves when class starts. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that a lack of sleep impacts brain function, resulting in poorer overall function during the day and poorer academic performance.

College students commonly stay up late to complete assignments or even pull all-nighters, even though the ramifications on their academic performance can be long-lasting.

These issues become especially prevalent during finals week as students must prepare for multiple assignments at one time, often not getting the proper amount of sleep and impacting their performance on exams.

Concordia has already taken a number of steps to adapt to students’ needs and make their class schedules more flexible. In addition to offering classes later into the afternoon, the school also has several night classes available that students can use to their advantage.

However, this doesn’t completely solve the problem. The number of morning classes exceeds those taught later in the day, with some required classes only offered at 8 or 8:30 a.m.

Evan’s and Kelleys’ study offers a potential solution. College start times should begin later in the day, closer to 10 or 11 a.m., allowing students to sleep later and take advantage of their optimal learning comprehension abilities.

Evan’s and Kelleys’ study concedes their research is not applicable to everyone, with students who consider themselves “morning people” becoming more tired and less fully engaged as the day goes on. However, such a shift in scheduling could benefit as much as 80% of students who find they struggle with early morning classes.

The ideal option, and one the study states is likely unattainable for most colleges and universities, would be for students to pick their own six-hour class block where they’d be at their most productive. Instead, adopting the later start time may be the best possible option for students.

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