Learning the Midnight Oil

midnight classes

Students look over the syllabus distributed by Kathleen O'Neill, left, on the first night of midnight classes at Bunker Hill Community College.

AP Images / Josh Reynolds

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It’s 11 o’clock: Do you know where your students are? If they attend Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, they could be hightailing it to a lecture hall. Last fall the school became the first in the nation to offer midnight classes. 

The idea came to Kathleen O’Neill, a professor of psychology, after she noticed students falling asleep in daytime classes, reports Spare Change News (May 21, 2010). Apologetic attendees explained that their evening and late-night work schedules made staying awake during the day difficult—despite their desire to be in school. O’Neill took her idea to the head of her department, and in fall 2009 two seminars—Principles of Psychology and College Writing—debuted at the witching hour. 

The change has already proven to be a boon for nontraditional learners. A single mother who cares for her daughter during the day and whose parents babysit evenings while she works explained to Spare Change that midnight classes are the only ones she can attend. A Boston police officer, on a 4 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. schedule, was in a similar boat. “It’s been decades since many of our students have been in school,” O’Neill told Spare Change. The college added a third midnight class last spring and plans to offer more courses in the fall.