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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

College students are notorious for pulling all-nighters to study for exams or finish term papers. So it's surprising, in a way, that it took this long for colleges to schedule classes for night owls. A community college in Maryland is just one of the institutions now tapping into the biorhythms of its students. Donna Marie Owens checked out one of those midnight classes.

Professor PAUL VINETTE (Anne Arundel Community College): I would go beep...

(Soundbite of laughter)

DONNA MARIE OWENS: Inside a brightly-lit classroom, Professor Paul Vinette stands near a chalk-board making comical noises. He's trying to keep his Intro to Psychology class engaged and awake.�

Prof. VINETTE: And that's a fact that whenever the dog was regularly presented at certain times of the day...

OWENS: Class begins at midnight and ends at a yawn-inducing 3 a.m. Kory Fox-Ponting is one of 10 students taking the Wednesday course.

Mr. KORY FOX-PONTING: I'm young. I'm always up at this hour, anyway, either playing video games or doing work or working on something. It's just an hour where my mind's just not resting, which is what most people are doing.

OWENS: Anne Arundel Community College in suburban Maryland has about 17,000 students. Like many community colleges nationwide, its enrollment has increased as the economy has tightened.

Norma Kent is a spokeswoman for the American Association of Community Colleges, representing 1,200 institutions in every state. Bunker Hill in Boston and several Midwest schools, she says, are among those offering midnight and 5 a.m. courses.

Ms. NORMA KENT (Spokeswoman, American Association of Community Colleges): But others have seen it as a viable way to serve students. And so if students are going to come at those hours, we're going to be there for them.

(Soundbite of Professor Vinette making funny sound)

OWENS: So that students stay alert, Professor Vinette uses everything from sound effects to a buffet with coffee and snacks. The class gets a 15-minute break, although he says most students don't need it.

Prof. VINETTE: It was the complete opposite of what I feared, which was going to be trying to drag a dozen students as if they were dead bodies through the mud at one in the morning. And it's quite the opposite. No one's tired. No one's sleepy. I got a bunch of night owls in here.

OWENS: These students have different reasons for taking a class this time of night. Cynthia Marshall is a homemaker in her late 40s who hopes to reenter the job market. The course means so much, she travels several hours each way on mass transit.

Ms. CYNTHIA MARSHALL (Student): Coffee. Lots of coffee.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. VINETTE: The following key terms are fair game for...

OWENS: Ashley Beck is 25 and married, with two small children. Her husband attends the police academy by day, while she pursues her degree at night.�

Ms. ASHLEY BECK (Student): There's not a lot of kids in the class, so the teacher-to-student ratio is a lot better. And you don't have to, like, raise your hand and wait for 50 million people to ask questions. It's easier to get the information you want to get.

OWENS: Zachary Herd is 19. He admits he's taking naps this semester. Psychology is a required course, but Herd is selective about what subjects he'd tackle at this hour.

Mr. ZACHARY HERD (Student): I wouldn't take any math class at midnight. It's just not something I want to do at midnight.

OWENS: Other late-night considerations: driving home around the same time as last call. Again, here's Kory Fox-Ponting.�

Mr. FOX-PONTING: A cop even pulled me over one night just to check my ID. And I said, hey, you won't believe me, but I just came out of class at three in the morning.

(Soundbite of Professor Vinette making funny sound)

OWENS: Local police and campus security may soon see more students in the wee hours. If demand continues, college officials are considering additional midnight courses in the future.�

For NPR News, I'm Donna Marie Owens.�

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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