When grad and undergrad collide: combined classes

By Melissa Wright
Contributing Writer

In the School of Management, sometimes undergraduate and graduate classes get mixed. This means that a first year could be taking a class with a student who is just about to get his or her MBA.  Presumably, the SOM does this when there is not enough interest in an undergraduate or graduate class alone, so that students still get to take the class.

The combination has both pros and cons, as undergraduate and graduate students lead vastly different lives. For undergraduate students, college is their full-time job, while grad students usually have a full-time job and only come to class at night.

One of the issues that undergraduate students face is that they now have to attend a night class.  Regularly scheduled undergraduate classes are mostly in the morning and afternoon between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. This means that an undergraduate student could start classes at 8 a.m. and finish at 9 p.m.

Offering of night classes for undergraduate students would not be an issue if the classes were optional, but they are not. For example, a mandatory class may only be offered at night from 6 to 9 p.m. in order to accommodate graduate students. Therefore a student is forced to take a night class, when that originally might not have been their intention.

Another issue is standards. Undergraduate students worry that they are being held to a graduate school standard. Graduate students wonder if they are paying more money only to be taught an undergraduate level class. While in most classes there are different syllabi for undergraduate and graduate students, they still attend the same lectures, and in some classes work on the same projects.

MBA student Tina McDonough, who is currently enrolled in a mixed class, said, “There are constraints present within the class dynamics, especially when it comes to schedules, class/team norms, and expectations of work.”

If students have to work on a project together, scheduling can quickly become a nightmare. Undergraduate student Thao Nguyen, also enrolled in a mixed class, said, “I do find it challenging to find a common schedule for a group project outside of the classroom.”

Graduate students often have full-time jobs, so they barely have any time to meet except later at night. Undergraduate students may have 8 a.m. classes, so they cannot stay until 11 p.m. working on a project after class.  Finding times to work together can be impossible.

But there are good reasons why graduate and undergraduate SOM students should be, and have been, allowed the opportunity to work together. It is a learning experience. Nguyen agreed with this, saying, “Based on the two grad classes I’ve taken at Simmons, I enjoy the grads’ expertise and experience.  It’s great for an undergrad like me to network.”

Bringing together both levels means more diverse ideas and opinions to contribute to class discussions and projects. McDonough hopes that “at end of the semester, both the undergrad and graduate students take away a unique and positive learning experience above and beyond the syllabus, one that we wouldn’t receive without the class mix present.”

Undergraduates can learn a lot from grad students, who have more experience in the real world. Networking with graduate students can also lead to undergraduates getting jobs or internships.

A solution to this issue is to not mix mandatory undergraduate and graduate classes. If a student is required to take a class, do not make that class a mixed class. If there is an optional elective class that has not had much interest, then merge it. That way the students can make their own decisions about whether or not they want to be in a mixed class.

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