The University of Akron plans to eliminate the vast majority of Friday classes, moving to a four-day schedule starting this fall.

Students across the country have long avoided Friday classes on their own by not signing up for them.

But UA says it is doing a lot more than simply moving to a four-day schedule for undergraduate classes.

“The intent is certainly not to abandon Fridays,” UA President Matthew Wilson said.

Rather, he said, UA will debut Five-Star Fridays — beefing up on Friday programming for students — everything from special events to career fairs.

Students will be encouraged to use the time for activities such as meeting faculty, researching, focusing on internships, participating in co-curricular activities, working, studying and performing community service.

With a five-day schedule, “Everything overlaps and you’ve got conflicts and it takes away opportunities,” Wilson said. “We’re looking at Five-Star Fridays to give opportunities to students.”

There still will be some classes on Fridays — though an estimated 80 to 85 percent of classes will not meet on the day — and student services will all be available.

Heavy approval

There’s a lot of student support for the move, Wilson said, noting that roughly 79 percent of students surveyed by UA last fall said they liked the idea. About 5,000 undergraduate students responded to the survey, a sizable chunk of the roughly 19,000 undergraduates at the university.

The survey asked what they thought about the idea of having classes offered Monday through Thursday, with Friday serving as an “experiential learning or professional development day.” The survey question ticked off various examples of Friday activities, such as meeting with professors, working or attending a lab.

Nearly 11 percent of respondents were “undecided” and about 10 percent said they “don’t like” the idea.

In addition to the survey, Wilson said, UA officials sought feedback about the move at a variety of focus groups.

Austin Merideth, 24, of Akron, who is majoring in applied mathematics, is among those who are for the change.

“I work weekends — Saturday and Sunday,” he said on campus Wednesday. “That would give me another day that’s more open” for studying he said.

“We’re all here to finish degrees,” he said, “and it might take some of the stress off. I think it’s a bit more manageable pace.”

Abi Uwadiae, 20, an accounting major and a member of Undergraduate Student Government, said she’s ambivalent about the change, but it “makes us different. I think it’s possibly something that could draw people in.”

Uwadiae, from Columbus, noted that some students who live on campus have expressed concern that the campus will be less lively on weekends, with students going home, taking advantage of having three days off in a row.

Joe Gabbard, 18, commutes from Massillon and says he likes to schedule classes for all five days.

“I like to be in school so I have to do my work,” he said. “It helps me stay motivated.”

Apart from the pack

The move will differentiate UA, which is trying to boost student enrollment.

UA officials say they know of no other Ohio public university that has made such a switch.

Wilson, who has won praise on campus and in the community for his efforts in response to UA’s financial problems, said the move isn’t about saving money, and likely won’t reduce costs.

Like his predecessor, Wilson inherited a budget gap primarily caused by a debt-financed building boom and declines in enrollment.

“I’m looking at this from an academic standpoint. It’s about academic quality … it’s about opportunities,” Wilson said, noting courses will be taught in the same amount of classroom time.

Student athletes and students who compete in such groups as engineering design teams will no longer have to miss class when leaving on Fridays for competitions, Wilson said.

Bill Rich, chairman of the UA Faculty Senate, which makes recommendations involving academic policy, said the change did not require Senate action.

However, Rich said “It would have been wise for the administration to seek Senate recommendation” that would have allowed for an in-depth look at the idea by faculty members.

The change, Rich said, “can affect academic programs, and it’s the faculty who know the most about what the impact might be on various academic programs.”

Rich said Wilson did discuss the idea in two or more Faculty Senate meetings.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook at www.facebook.com.