By Brian Kreissl
I recently finished a night school course at a local university as part of a certificate in organizational leadership. While I had taken some other courses over the last few years, this is the first time in about a decade that I took a university degree credit course in a traditional classroom setting.
When I was previously taking part-time university courses, I wasn’t a father or a husband. I also wasn’t a manager and didn’t live nearly as far outside the city. Added to that, the course I just took was in a condensed format running two nights a week and we had some fairly extensive renovation work going on at the time.
Because of all those factors, I found life as a part-time university student a little more challenging this time around (even though I enjoyed the course and got very good grades). Obviously, those challenges were due to my lifestyle and having so many conflicting demands, but I also believe universities, colleges and employers could make life a little easier for part-time students.
Going back to school full-time
I used to wonder why relatively few people go back to school on a part-time basis while working full-time, but that was before I became a father, husband, homeowner, suburbanite and manager. I now completely understand why some people quit their jobs to go back to school — it’s really tough to juggle so many commitments at once.
I just spent a weekend with an old friend who recently returned to university in his late 30s on a full-time basis. While we are very close in age, we’re at totally different life stages. Nevertheless, I’m a little jealous of his “Peter Pan” lifestyle.
However, I have too many commitments at this point to pursue higher education on a full-time basis, and I truly enjoy working and earning a decent salary. But it’s a pity people have to make such a choice. Shouldn’t we be making it easier for people to juggle work, family and academic responsibilities — especially nowadays with so many careers requiring lifelong learning and retraining?
What can academic institutions do?
From the perspective of academic institutions, more classes should be offered at times accessible to working people or online. More part-time programs would be nice too, since many programs aren’t even offered online or through evening courses.
There also needs to be some consideration that working people’s jobs must come first. Having to miss a deadline due to an important business trip should be considered a valid excuse (perhaps it is at some schools, but I would suspect not all).
However, my biggest pet peeve is group work in an academic context. As a working person, it’s the bane of my existence.
There’s nothing worse than having to pull an all-nighter to cover for a group member who handed in shoddy work at the last minute — especially when you have to go to work the next day. And it can be challenging trying to arrange meetings with group members, especially when they don’t work full-time and want to meet during the day.
I know the old refrain, “Group work is important to teach students how to work with others.”
Sorry, I don’t think working professionals need to relearn this lesson. In the workplace, people would never get off with the inferior work many people think is acceptable to hand in at school.
What can employers do?
My employer is very helpful when it comes to studying part-time. And it really helped to have an understanding manager when I was doing my course. Having said that, I realize not every employer or manager is as enlightened.
More employers need to make it easier for part-time students and recognize the courses they take will ultimately benefit the organization. Employers should offer tuition reimbursement programs wherever possible — especially for courses relevant to an employee’s current or future role.
Employers should allow for a brief period of study leave or flexible hours during exam time or when a major assignment is due. They should also be prepared to allow employees to leave a bit early if they wouldn’t otherwise make it on time for class.
Above all, employers need to recognize the value of part-time and continuing education courses. And I believe there should be more recognition of courses completed by distance learning, as long as they were completed through accredited academic institutions.
Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at email@example.com. For more information, visit www.consultcarswell.com.