At 6:30 or 7:00 each morning, you may just be rolling out of bed or finishing up that first cup of coffee. But some students at St. Cloud Technical and Community College have already been in their first class of the day.
Because of a demand for courses in the health sciences, the school now offers a 6:30 a.m. anatomy course.
It's part of a nationwide trend. Because of skyrocketing enrollment, community colleges are scheduling classes at unusual times to squeeze more students in.
Things move quickly during Liz Burand's 6:30 a.m. physiology and anatomy course. She begins her pre-dawn class with a short quiz, then moves into a brief discussion about the cross-section of cells featured on the test.
After that, Burand runs a video showing an up-close, and rather gory, throat surgery.
Burand says teaching at a fast pace is vital in a class that begins before the sun rises. She doesn't want her students to get bored, or sleepier than they already are.
"I try to make sure my lectures are 10 minutes or less, and then either a group discussion or getting up, preferably moving around, really integrating as much activity as I can in the classroom," said Burand.
So why would anyone take a course four days a week this early in the morning?
"Some of them are here because they like it at 6:30 in the morning, it's convenient for them. Others are here because it's the only thing that was left and they have to," she said.
The early morning schedule was actually Burand's idea. Last fall, the college needed to add another anatomy and physiology course to meet student demand, and the rest of the day was full.
Despite the start time, the class filled right away, and even had a waiting list.
Last semester, Aimee Klein took one of those first 6:30 anatomy classes. It was the only section left and Klein, 27, needed the course to prepare for her masters degree in occupational therapy.
This semester, Klein signed up for the early class by choice. She enjoys getting one class out of the way first thing in the day. She also finds that it's filled with dedicated students.
"The early morning class you have the serious people, the ones that have work and take it more seriously," said Klein.
“[In] the early morning class you have the serious people, the ones that ... take it more seriously.”Student Aimee Klein
St. Cloud Technical and Community College saw double-digit percentage growth in enrollment this year. In part, that's due to laid-off workers returning to school. But it's also because students are flocking to careers in health care, jobs considered stable in a recession.
Janet Steinkamp, the college's dean of health sciences and human services, says whatever their reason, students are demanding more early morning classes.
"I would think it is, for some people, a stretch. It's very early in the morning," said Steinkamp. "For some people, it is probably a Godsend for their schedule. So we will continue to try this and maybe expand into some other courses."
Steinkamp says other community colleges in Minnesota offer classes that start as early as 7 a.m., but says St. Cloud Technical and Community College appears to be the only one with classes that start at 6:30.
The school appears to be part of a growing national trend for community colleges who have long catered to students who need more flexibility, because of jobs or family responsibilities.
Faced with rising enrollments, community colleges across the country are packing the day with classes to fit in more students.
"Community colleges have gotten pretty creative. The notion of turning away a student is something they just don't want to do," said Norma Kent, spokeswoman for the American Association of Community Colleges.
Kent says colleges are offering more early-bird courses to meet demand. And now, some colleges are also offering classes well into the night.
"They have what some are calling graveyard classes, where students come in at 11 or 12 o'clock at night," she said.
St. Cloud Technical and Community College already runs classes until 9:30 at night, but school officials say they would go later if enough students demanded it.
Students aren't just looking for flexibility at morning and night. Community college officials in Minnesota report that some students are starting to ask that classes be offered on Sundays, a day that's traditionally been off limits.