Midnight College

midnightBoston’s Bunker Hill Community College is experimenting with midnight classes.  Wick Sloane, who teaches a full class from 11:45 pm to 2:45 am, explains:

Two thirds of my class this morning enrolled at midnight because all the day, evening and weekend sections were full. The rest have night jobs, most of them at hospitals, and one is a taxi dispatcher. Almost all plan to go on to a four-year college. One loves physics. One is earning the credits to transfer to become a doctor of pharmacology. It was midnight or put their ambitions on hold.

Is this a good news story, or what?

No. This is a national nightmare. Not a cry but a scream for help from these students. Sure, it’s great that community colleges are finding ways to respond to the huge enrollment increases they are seeing. But, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, do we want to be citizens in a country that forces its poorest students to go to college at midnight?

So, why not just offer more classes during reasonable hours?  Sloane blames federal education policy,

But actually providing community colleges with enough money to meet the demands of their very hard working students? Actually give these institutions enough money so that there are professors and classroom space before midnight? No one is really talking about that — and students are being denied sections in massive numbers, nationwide this year.


As I’ve noted before, the federal tax policies of we, the people, through deductions on donations and tax-free endowments, subsidize Ivy League and other wealthy-college students by at least $20,000 per student. A single mother at a community college or a 23-year-old student supporting her parents are lucky to win a full federal Pell Grant. Harvard lost $8 billion from its endowment and Williams College, where I went, lost hundreds of millions by taking their charitable, federal tax-deducted dollars to the dog track. So what? We haven’t changed any of the federal tax rules, and these wealthy colleges are out panhandling for more money.

But what does any of that have to do with scheduling classes during the day? Presumably, teaching at night is more expensive than teaching during the day given that administration, climate control, and the like are largely fixed costs.  Maybe there simply aren’t enough classrooms available?  I’ve never seen that in the institutions where I taught but maybe it happens at Bunker Hill.

And what does that have to do with Pell Grants?  Presumably, if it were easier to get subsidized tuition, there would be more students competing for space.  (I’ve emailed Sloane and will update if he responds.)

Interesting sidebar to the story:  The guy who came up with the idea of midnight scheduling is John P. Reeves, chair of the behavioral sciences department, who’s been at Bunker Hill since 1967.  He was the inspiration for the Robin Williams character in “Good Will Hunting.”

UPDATE: I’ve heard back from Professor Sloane and, indeed, the issue is simply one of space:  “This semester, yes, all the classes, evening and weekends and days are full.  There is no room.  The registrar has added 109 new sections.”  He agrees that more Pell Grants would add to the problem but he’d welcome it nonetheless.  I gather, then, that this is just one of his frustrations with the system and largely unrelated to the midnight classes phenomenon.

It’s interesting how these problems vary from state to state.  In Alabama, the state where I got all three of my degrees (four if you count a high school diploma) and did the majority of my teaching, higher education is woefully underfunded.  But one can scarcely throw a rock without hitting a community college, thanks to George Wallace’s logrolling.  For that matter, there are really far too many four year schools, too, in a smallish state with only 4.3 million people.   So, while money for faculty and technology was limited, classroom space was always in abundant supply.  That was true in Georgia and Tennessee, the other states in which I taught, as well.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DL says:

    This is idiotic and racist -it will cut into our midnight basketball games.

  2. mpw280 says:

    If the students can’t fit a regular class in or the classes are booked out then why not. The schools can’t be expected to increase the number of classrooms in six months and that is how the enrollment increase happened. It is actually utilizing the existing infrastructure to is fullest to hold classes at all hours, think of ice rinks where hockey teams compete for limited ice time by using the rinks at all hours. Isn’t getting the people educated the whole goal of the community college anyway? Finally a government institution that listens to its users and meets their demands, wish our comm college would do that.

  3. JKB says:

    The rest have night jobs, most of them at hospitals, and one is a taxi dispatcher.

    By his own description, the night classes are beneficial to the schedules of one third of his students. They probably also fit better in the fatigue management of these students as well since trying to meet dayworker schedules while working second or third shift interferes with good sleep routines. As for the other 2/3, well a rapid influx is hard to meet with static infrastructure.

  4. sookie says:

    Outside the suggestion that colleges make available more classes during the day, evening, weekend, etc…

    It could be that midnight classes well suit some schedules. Those getting off work at 10-11pm or those starting very early in the morning.

    Instead of adding more classes on campus, add more online that allow people to ‘attend’ on their own schedule, within reason and some guidelines.

  5. Please, please don’t tell anyone in my college’s administration about this…

  6. James Joyner says:

    Please, please don’t tell anyone in my college’s administration about this…

    Heh. I can’t imagine it’ll catch on at universities. At community colleges, though, it could happen. Ten years ago, I was teaching a class from 8-12 on Saturdays at Bainbridge College. One reason among many that I was feverishly applying for other jobs and was fortunate to land at Troy State after one year.