UT ends informal classes

Claire Stevens, News Reporter

From eating at restaurants to gathering with friends to in-person classes, activities that shut down for COVID-19 have made their return. But UT’s Informal Classes program, which the University paused at the height of the pandemic, won’t be coming back.

UT’s Informal Classes program offered students the opportunity to learn about art, music, languages and more since 1971. Informal classes were nonacademic, meaning they did not count toward grade point averages, and were meant to teach students new and sometimes unique skills. In 2010, the program expanded, giving local community members an opportunity to take the classes, according to earlier reporting by The Daily Texan.

Prior to the pandemic, Erin Harris, director of course programming at UT’s Extended Education Ventures, said enrollment in informal classes was declining but averaged around 1,020 registrations per semester.

When COVID-19 hit, some informal classes moved online, but the program took a complete hiatus in September 2020 due to health and safety concerns and staffing challenges, according to a statement from Harris. In spring 2022, the University made the decision to shut down the program and sent an email in June to notify former informal class participants of its decision.

Harris said the decision to end the program was due to changing market conditions brought about by the pandemic, including alternative educational programs like Airbnb Experiences, MasterClass, edX and local educators offering similar classes on Zoom.

“At the same time that organizations and educational institutions pivoted to online modalities due to the pandemic, so too did Austin’s independent educators and small businesses providing educational experiences,” Harris said. “As a continuing education unit, we must recognize and be willing to evolve with the times and changing world.”