Sounding Off

March 19, 2003

Last week we asked readers to send us their feelings on the new Proposed AU tuition policy [see last week’s Over Extended for more information – v11 i11, March 12, 2003].

The topic for next week is:
Rising tuition rates: Do you still feel that under the new tuition rates you are getting a better deal at AU [see Editorial and News from AU for more information]?

I just wanted to express my concern over the proposed course extension policy. Since I get student loan funding, my course contracts are four months long, but I can get a two-month extension if I need it. I typically enrol in 4 or 5 courses at a time, and then I work on one course at a time, allowing about a month for each one. For the fourth course of my four-month term, that means I’m just starting the course a month before the contract date. If I’m just starting the course, how am I supposed to know at that time whether I will need an extension? I always give AU as much notice as possible when I require an extension, but this is ridiculous. If a time period must be imposed, ten or fifteen days would be more appropriate.
Heather Wrigley

AU’s proposed extension policy, while not without it’s drawbacks, will not likely affect my present or future studies. I cannot see this policy making AU any less “open concept” either. The fact is that your average university will not even allow you to extend a course beyond it’s set semester, and the only way to move an exam is with a doctors note or in case of a death of immediate family.

The only fault I can see in the AU policy is that there is not provision for rescheduling of exams due to extenuating circumstances. Upon proof of “extenuating circumstances” a student should be allowed to reschedule exam. From my understanding of AU policy, you can, in fact, write supplemental exams upon failure of the first. I figure that missing the exam would be the same as failing it.

Personally, while acknowledging that everyone runs different lives, I have always known more then a month before whether I am on track to finishing my courses, and if by chance something comes up I did not expect, it has always required just a bit more buckling down to get it done.

If AU and it’s students want to stand side by side in the same category as traditional institutions in the field of academic integrity and respect then they should be careful not to over liberalize their delivery system that is already one of the most liberal in the country.
Trevor Siwak

Athabasca University is all about flexibility. We attend this university because we have complex lives and multiple responsibilities. Where is the flexibility when students are asked to plan their lives a month in advance? I would hazard a guess that most students are like me, working like mad to finish their course on time, and hoping right up to the last minute that they will succeed (and I’m sure most of them do). I have finished countless courses in the last week of the month, knowing that I have that safety net of an extension if I need it. If the university finds that most students are seeking extensions during the last four days of the month, they should accept that this is the reality of the AU student experience – and seek ways to accommodate it.
Debbie Jabbour

There has been a lot of discussion on this issue. Below is a sample of other comments from AU students:

:: Many students who request extensions do so to gain some extra time to complete an assignment or to study for the exam. AU students, for the most part, have much more complex lifestyles, responsibilities, and commitments than the typical on-campus university student, and the need for flexibility is crucial.

:: This requires students to schedule an extension well before they would even have to schedule a final exam. For students without access to the learning centres, this could prove an additional unneeded cost — they may have to purchase the extension simply because they are unsure if they will be able to get an invigilator in time.

:: “I made arrangements to write exams in Andrew, but these fell through and I later had to travel to Edmonton. I am lucky that it is only 125 km to AU in Edmonton”. Otherwise a last minute extension would have been needed or the course would have been lost.

:: This shortens the amount of time students on student loans have to raise the $127. Considering their financial state to begin with, this can prove to be an extreme hardship.

:: “Athabasca University Students are already severely disadvantaged by the Student Loan System (as it requires two semesters of 4 months back to back for standard full time courses, yet some AU courses are designed to use the full six months, and AU has imposed a limit of only 6 open courses at a time.) This would further increase those difficulties by forcing students to extend courses that they may not have needed to otherwise — yet the extension could put them over the 6 course limit were they to try and continue full time studies. (eg, a student opts to take 4 courses in each semester, but finds that the first semester load is taking longer than expected.. now the student would have to schedule well in advance of the contract date that the courses would be open for another 2 months. Given AU’s total open course limit, the student may be precluded from continuing full time studies, even if later he found that was able to complete some of the courses before the 4 months are up.)”

[Ed. Many AU students may not be aware that the time limit for completion is reduced to four months if you are on student loans.]

:: This completely eliminates the ability for extensions to be used in case of family or personal difficulties — thus disadvantaging those students that may have certain conditions. (And often there is a correlation between having to take student loans and having conditions that make life difficult).

:: “I have actually dropped courses because of personal commitments and health. If I had to give 30 days notice, I could not have been a student with AU at that time.”

:: “I’ve extended many courses, and always tried hard to finish them right up until the end.”

:: Two Council members have experienced problems with migraines/severe headaches that required last minute postponement of exams & requiring purchase of an extension.

:: “I always decided in the last few days if I can’t finish. I realize this is hard for the school, but they should just be prepared for it.”

:: The university already has online forms for extensions, could not other parts be automated to reduce work?

:: “If the reality is that students are extending in the last 4 days, why not accept that and work with it instead of trying to force students to do something different? Obviously most students try right till the end to finish a course (I know I do), and cannot possibly predict a month in advance whether they will be able to do so.”

:: “Sometimes you may think that you will be able to finish the course in a month, but unexpected circumstances pop up, even if they aren’t emergencies. I can see maybe 15 days notice, but expecting students to predict their events of the next month of their life is ridiculous.”

:: The excuse that the current policy causes too much paperwork around the end of the month is not valid. Won’t changing it to 30 days notice just move the paperwork to the beginning of the month?

It seems most people extend last minute because something unexpected occurs. In many universities you can’t extend courses [unless they are project courses], but many people attend AU because of commitments or life issues that make going to a regular university impossible.

A lot of the extensions I have used have been due to getting migraines during exam week. I cannot predict these, and they last for days. It hurts to pay the extension fee just so I can reschedule my exam [do not be deceived, extensions are not a favour, we pay dearly for them – almost 1/3 of tuition for 1/3 more time and no extra materials], but I sure appreciate the option. The 30 day deadline means I could no longer use an extension when I need it most. Ditto for a mother whose child gets sick.. Granted a woman with small children or a person with chronic migraine might find it very hard to attend a traditional U, but that’s why we have AU!

I am thankful every day for the great experience and quality education I am getting from AU, but this new policy will make it a lot harder. What bothers me, is that the university didn’t even attempt to tell students that they were having troubles with late extensions, so there was no way we could try to change our habits! I wish they would recognize that we can sometimes be part of the solution.

For next week’s Sounding Off, send me your thoughts on the following topic:
Rising tuition rates: Do you still feel that under the new tuition rates you are getting a better deal at AU [see Editorial and News from AU for more information]?

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