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SMCC lines up early morning classes for professionals who want college with their coffee

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
James Dunn starts his intro to literature class at Southern Maine Community College at 8 a.m. Thursday Nov. 15, 2012, in South Portland. Next semester, SMCC will offer classes even earlier.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The early bird catches the — degree?

For professionals and busy parents who want college with their coffee, Southern Maine Community College announced Wednesday the school is joining pre-workday fitness classes, among others, in the movement to accommodate early risers. Starting on Jan. 14 with the spring 2013 semester, the community college will slice an hour off its earliest class start times, with 10 courses flipping on the lights at 7 a.m. or 7:30 a.m.

SMCC has never previously held classes before 8 a.m.

“While we still are getting students who are going to school full time and are looking for midday classes, we’re seeing … more people who are working and want to go to school, and really want to take classes outside of that 9-to-5 range,” said SMCC Vice President Janet Sortor.

According to a school announcement, the shift to earlier start times aim to make academic life easier for nontraditional students, many of whom are working professionals trying to retool their skill sets. A recent SMCC survey discovered that nearly one in three of its students — 28.5 percent — has a full-time job. The survey also found that the school’s student body includes more than 400 people who already have either an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree.

“We’ll get a sense of who these people are [who want early classes] based on the response we get and then tailor our programs for their needs,” Sortor said. “Is it people interested in getting degrees in business? Hospitality? Computers? Science and technology? Where is this demographic? It will be interesting to see where the demand is.

“The market for classes before people go to work is a really interesting one, and that’s our mission, trying to serve a diverse population of people and give them an opportunity to get started,” she continued. “Not everybody can take an evening course after work, they may need to get home and take care of their families. If it works, this will be something we’ll steadily increase.”

Another benefit, community college officials note, is that 7 a.m. classes will help stagger the arrival of students on the South Portland campus. As the population of the school has grown — from just more than 3,500 students in 2003 to more than 7,500 today — so has traffic congestion along Broadway, one of the busiest streets in the city and the main pipeline to the campus.

On Oct. 18, SMCC President Ronald Cantor took part in a neighborhood meeting to address traffic concerns in the area, and the earlier start times are one way in which the school is hoping to ease the burden on Broadway, the community college announcement states. Other solutions include the promotion of alternative modes of transportation among students — such as walking or biking — and the offer of free bus passes for commuting students.

The initial courses offered early will be Introduction to Literature, English Composition, Introduction to Psychology, College Algebra, Introduction to Algebra and Introduction to Sociology.

Sortor said that selection may increase if the early bird classes are found to be popular.

“Part of what we are always trying to do is look for better ways to serve our communities, and change the way we think about what we’re doing, whether it’s weekend courses, online courses or — now — 7 a.m. courses,” she said.

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