Recently there has been some discussion over whether students should provide free promotional support to the university for the purpose of securing affiliations with other universities, or for any other purpose that increases business for the university. Personally, I have been puzzled by the debate. I had thought that most students are happy to promote their school in any way possible, and I’m a bit surprised to see that some consider this an unacceptable use of students as cogs in the university propaganda machine. Here are my thoughts on the issue . . .
A university degree, fundamentally, is a very expensive piece of paper. It carries some intrinsic meaning – it shows that you completed the needed credits and that you took all of the required courses for your degree. It also indicates that you passed all of those courses, although it is unspecific. You could have just squeaked by, or maybe you really excelled. Once your degree is granted, it does not matter much.
That piece of paper is possibly the most expensive thing we will ever buy, save for a house, and when you factor in the wage equivalent of the hours of work put into obtaining that degree, the value might even exceed that of most homes. A degree determines where we can work, how much we can get paid, which post-graduate programs we can apply for, and in general can have a significant effect on the course and quality of our futures.
How far a degree will take you depends largely on the reputation of the school which granted it. Not all degrees are equal. I recall, for example, about 9 years ago having a discussion with a family friend who was the HR manager for a large oil company in Calgary. Part of his job was the hiring of computer programmers, operators and other technical staff. He mentioned to me that his company had a strict policy of not hiring anyone from a certain well-known private technical school because experience had taught them that graduates of this school often were under-trained and had fewer skills than those from other schools. In this case, the school was the deciding factor in whether or not the applicant was hired, not the applicants degree of skill. Incidentally, the cost of a degree from this school can exceed that of any other Alberta university. It might seem unfair, but in reality, when companies hire people with degrees, they have a right to expect that you have been given a certain quality of education – they cannot simply hire everyone and try them out to find out how skilled they are.
Anything students can do to increase the reputation of their school increases the value of their degree. More importantly, helping the university to form a collaborative relationship with other schools may open up a wider array of educational possibilities. Currently AU is attempting to become accredited with some American Universities. This will likely lead to an increased awareness of AU in that country, and may help AU students who wish to work in the United States. Potentially, AU may be able to sell their course packages to schools that are starting distance programs. An increase in funds for the university could be used to fund the production of more courses (and if these become a highly saleable commodity, this will likely occur), better facilities, and again, a better reputation for the quality of education that AU provides. Collaboration with other schools also means a broader network through which students can seek education and employment. It would be interesting if in the future schools were to network services, such as local employment programs, with other institutions so that students can benefit from these services if they move to new locales.
It is my hope that one day the greatest advantage of a distance institution will be that we can have access to hundreds or even thousands of courses by sharing materials with other schools. With print-on-demand technology, this is a real possibility. The only troublesome part would be having tutors that are proficient with all courses, but if we could also share tutors with other schools, this is no longer a problem. I am currently quite happy with AU, but there are several fields of study that I am interested in that AU currently does not provide courses for.
When I first considered applying to AU in 1994, the school did not have a very good reputation. This had nothing to do with the quality of the courses. In fact, I heard nothing about the education that AU provided. Instead, much of the negative opinion was due to a public perception that a distance university is inherently inferior to a regular school. Also, the location of the school, in what many consider to be backwoods-Alberta, did not help. I decided at that time that the cost of an AU degree was not worth it, even though the quality of education might be excellent. I want an education for personal reasons, and to satisfy those reasons, the reputation of the school is not a factor. I also have a future to worry about, however, and student loans to pay off. These factors demand that I come out of school with good employability and that I get respect for my academic achievements.
I am pleased to say that AU’s academic credibility has improved greatly since them. So has the value of an AU degree. There are still detractors, however, and in my opinion it would be self-defeating to fail to support the further recognition and publicizing of AU in any way I can. This is not a move to help the school, but a move to help secure my future academic credentials. I would be a fool not to.
I am certain I am not alone in this feeling. As far as I know, it is quite common for students to work to promote their school. This is also a major reason that alumni associations are formed. Graduates realize that even long after they leave their school; their degree may become devalued if their alma mater falls in public esteem. Working to secure the reputation of the school is possibly as important as securing a degree.
Without question it is vital that the school actually provide the best quality education possible. This is one reason that bodies like the student council exist – to address issues of educational quality and the quality of school services. Clearly a school that offers a quality educational experience will more easily gain a good reputation. Even the best school on the planet is of little value to student, however, if the rest of the planet is not aware of its quality.
Tamra lives in Calgary with her husband and two cats. A fulltime AU student, she splits her free time between her duties as an AUSU councillor, writing her first novel, and editing written work by other students and friends.