Vol. 15 : No. 7
Editor's Note: This tragic-comedic and all too common tale crossed my desk some time ago and it needs to be shared with all of you. In this brave new world, some interfaces have not been well addressed and solved in schools that are involved in Distance Learning. These are in the area of service to the most important component of any Distance Learning area, the student. This is a caveat for all new and not so new Distance Learning systems. Distance Learning admission procedures, advisement, registration, payment, access to the book store and the library resources, for both matriculated and non-matriculated Distance Learning students, must be compatible with established on-campus procedures, understood by on-campus personnel, and flexible to accommodate the needs of the students who may never access the campus, except, perhaps, at graduation.
Trials and Tribulations of a Distance Learning Student
I couldn't tie up the computer at work so I had to write this by hand. It is generally in sequence, but my main effort is to hit the significant events.
In August of '97 I contacted the director of the program I was interested in about the possibility of satellite broadcast of your university's long established bachelor's program. I had earned an A.S. degree but I resisted buying one of those one night per week rap session "life experience" bachelor's degrees and the stigma that attends it. Your university's program seemed ideal.
I began the admission process in the hope of starting class at the end of September. I realized right away that no one was familiar with the program director, you, that particular bachelor's program, or distance learning. It also appeared that admissions was prepared to deal only with 18 year old incoming freshman. After weeks with no response, I called and was told to resubmit. My transcripts were received, but I needed a S.A.T. or A.C.T. score. I had taken one or the other in 1963; in any case I found that records no longer existed, and I was told that I could not be admitted. I then applied for a waiver; stating that I had taken the test 35 years ago, I had an A.S. degree and about 135 units with a 3.75 G.P.A., and that I was attempting to transfer. The waiver was granted, but I was then told that I had to take entry level Math and English placement tests. I made further inquiries and someone actually decided that I did not need those tests but that I needed to take some sort of writing test. I have taken no such test but finally received a letter stating that I have been admitted. A more recent letter tells me that my admission will be voided if I don't attend an on-campus orientation.
During the entire period of time I had been told frequently by phone and letter that I needed to come to this office or that office to speak with people or turn in forms. When I replied that I was 400 miles away and would probably never set foot on campus, I was met with incredulity and sometimes mild irritation. Again, no one seemed to be familiar with distance learning or your great program.
While attempting to be admitted, I was concurrently applying for student aid. Many if not most of the questions had no relation to my particular situation but they required answers anyway. In order to enlighten whomever, I included a letter explaining that my parents are 80 years old and don't support me, that I am a 51 year old, single, custodial parent, and that I have tens of thousands of dollars in expenses for alimony, lawyer's fees and a handicapped child; none of which appear in the application. After many months I was told that a student loan was denied. When I inquired, I was told that it was simply a computer decision. I persisted and was later told by someone else that distance learning students are not eligible for student loans.
This brings us to more recent times. Of course you know about all of the effort that went in to securing a campus. (Mr. Franks is referring to a newly established Distance Learning receive site at a community college.) Now that we have one, I finally registered. When I called the 800 number, I got a recording that asked me to give verbal responses to various questions after hearing a tone; questions such as name, course title, and MasterCard number. So now I'm beginning to suspect that this might have been all I've ever needed to do, and that maybe I didn't need to go through 10 months of anguish. Also there was no mention of any prerequisites, such as the A.A./A.A.S lower division degree. It appears that anyone with a MasterCard can be a student. (Although Mr. Franks may have been admitted as a matriculated student, unfortunately he followed directions in the summer catalog for admission as a Special Sessions, non-matriculated student for this summer, and paid $1500 for three courses instead of $584.75, the 6+ unit course fee.)
We talked yesterday about the latest incident. I got a letter saying that almost none of my education had been accepted. I had taken everything offered in the lower division, specific program major, about 70 quarter units. I was given credit for only 6 quarter units from a transcript that clearly indicated that they were semester units. I was also given some credit for documented military education. 9 units were supposed to have been lower division for basic training and military occupation skill training. I also have 1500 or more hours of officer and N.C.O. leadership and management academies that were supposed to convert to 12 upper division elective units. Actually, at a university with R.O.T.C. this education would be much more than sufficient for a minor in military science. In any case, it appears that I was given only lower division credit.
There was no mention of credit for general education. In high school I was a college prep science/math major and humanities minor with electives in drafting and shop, so I was able to CLEP all of my G.E. My fear is that although a well-respected community college granted me a degree, your university will not accept it. I have been told by various people at your university that; yes, CLEP is accepted, or yes, it is accepted only if the college from which you are transferring certifies your G.E., or no, CLEP is not accepted in any case.
Everything that has happened or not happened in the past 10 months has been accomplished or not accomplished by surface mail or phone. Nearly all of the mailings that I received were form letters that had no bearing on my situation, needs or inquiries. I made countless touch tone phone calls that trickled down through any number of sub-menus until I was left listening to what sounded like nothing more than background cosmic radiation noise left over from the original "big bang'. Sometimes I would get a curt, recorded "good-bye."
Professor, I believe that I am now becoming clairvoyant. I see two letters in my future. The first one will be from admissions stating that since I have not registered (which I have), I must now reapply for admission. They will then forward a copy to the veteran's affairs office which will send a letter terminating my benefits.
Thank you for all of your help and genuine concern. Good luck with the provost, although I'm not sure what he or she does. (In my last exchange with Mr. Franks, I had indicated that there might indeed be a need for some policy changes which would probably have to go through the Provost's office.) In the army a provost (pronounced "provo") is an officer of the military police corps, usually a Lt. Colonel, who is charged with all security, investigation and law enforcement on a military post. Similar?
Also, forget student aid, such as it is. I borrowed the money to pay MasterCard from my brother.
P.S. I forgot to tell you that the finance office people cancelled my MasterCard transaction because they confuse distance learning, Continuing Ed., and Open University. A nice lady discovered the error and corrected it. I didn't list names of anyone I've dealt with since I bear no ill will. But I do think that the left hand needs to know what the right is doing.
You know that I have announced this program in my area twice and felt like an idiot both times when nothing happened. So I'll begin classes but hold off further recruiting efforts until I hear more from you.
About the Author
Hollis Franks is pursuing his undergraduate degree with much determination, and many set backs. He is a Vietnam veteran, has traveled extensively, is in the military reserve, is fully employed, and fits the typical profile of many Distance Learners. He recently graduated.
Note: This article is republished from ED at a Distance, July 1998.