Dear Sandra – What is my AU degree worth?

Dear Sandra,

One thing that I have always been conscious of was that my degree might not be on-par with other degrees that are taken at an actual campus. Sometimes I feel that an employer may see the correspondence degree as a less-than-par or a cereal -box degree and not give me the same chances. This has troubled me for years and I always seem to be justifying why correspondence is OK.

I wonder if others feel the same way. I (personally) feel a bit inadequate next to a management student from say the U of A. I know that I am getting a good education, but I always wonder how employers view the correspondence degree program.

Anonymous in Alberta

Dear AA,

I remember when I first began looking into studies at AU. I had vaguely heard of AU, but equated its credibility with that of those certificate-granting institutions that advertise in coupon packages (you know the kind, you choose a degree, lick it, stick it and mail it away). However, I spent an insane amount of time researching the AU website and asking AU advisors and students that I knew for some information on the validity of an AU degree before I finally took the leap and began a 4 year BA program.

I’m now half-way through my degree and have no doubts whatsoever about its validity. Twice now I have had the privilege to attend AU convocation. During the ceremonies, as each graduate takes the stage, the speaker announces what degree this graduate completed and their current (or projected) employment status. Many of these newly graduated individuals are employed with reputable companies. If most already have jobs when they are accepting their diplomas, what does that tell you?

However, I wanted to get some cold hard facts for verification, so I asked Dr. Judith Hughes, VP Academic at AU, for some statistics. When I forwarded your question to her she was eager to help as she feels this is an opportunity to clear up any misconceptions students may have about AU. One important issue she wanted to address was the use of the word “correspondence.”

“This word is incorrect and serves to reinforce the very misconception that this student wishes to resolve. In fact, online and distance education represents an advancement in the teaching/learning dynamic … one that builds on the true Socratic method (in which Socrates mentored a student one-on-one, engaging and challenging the student). One could argue that on-campus experiences, with hundreds of students in a large lecture theatre actually render the student more anonymous than does distance education.”

This is an excellent point from Dr. Hughes. Our education AU should always be referred to as on-line or distance education and not “correspondence.” The latter term implies that we have no contact with an instructor, when the opposite is true. Many of my traditional university friends envy the fact that I have such a close relationship with my tutors. In fact, one friend was astonished to learn that I was given the home phone number, email and street address of my tutor, because she never was privy to any of this personal information from her professors.

Dr. Hughes adds that employers and graduate schools are becoming increasingly aware of the quality of AU students because these students have demonstrated a discipline and independence that other graduates sometimes lack. Studying from home, on your own schedule, takes an extreme amount of dedication, independence and organization, showing employers that besides being an intelligent, knowledgeable graduate you are a responsible, self-disciplined person (well, for most people).

AU is also a full member of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the International Council for Open and Distance Education. AU students are given transfer credit at sister institutions and our grads are welcome in graduate programs at many other schools.

Ok, now for the facts (courtesy of Dr. Hughes, NOTE: these are Alberta Learning Statistics, not AU statistics):

Alberta Learning conducted a survey of “the class of 2000” – Two Years After Graduation… for all Alberta Universities and University/colleges. … some findings for AU (Class of 2000):

– labour force participation = 97%
– almost 9 in 10 working grads agreed that their program was “worth the financial cost”
– one quarter were already enrolled in a graduate program
– 84% reported that their job and their program were related “overall”
– 88% reported job-program fit in terms of general skills and abilities
– 91% were satisfied with course relevance

In addition to surveying graduates, Alberta Learning also surveys current students. Alberta Learning conducts satisfaction surveys with students from all universities and university colleges in the province and publishes the results. AU receives these results along with student satisfaction scores for AU as compared to the Alberta average scores. Some selected figures:

– satisfied with overall educational experience – AU = 92%; provincial average = 79%
– improve yourself generally – AU = 93%; provincial average = 83%
– would choose the same institution – AU = 93%; provincial average = 83%
– clear course objectives – AU = 91%; provincial average = 82%
– interesting presentation- AU= 83%; provincial average = 62%
– fosters effective writing – AU = 84%; provincial average = 73%

These statistics show two things: 1) We have boring post-secondary institutions in Alberta (see interesting presentation provincial average) and 2) AU exceeds the provincial average for all these points and doesn’t fall below a B!

I encourage you to investigate more of the AU website on your own, visit the AUSU student discussion board to connect with other current students, talk to the AU Alumni Society and if need be contact AU or AUSU directly. Staff and council members are always eager to help address students’ concerns. My thanks to Dr. Hughes for her assistance with answering this question.

Athabasca University: The “class of 2000” Two Years After Graduation [results from the 2002 Alberta Universities and University Colleges’ Graduate Employment Survey, Marianne Sorenson, Nov. 2002


This column is for entertainment only. Sandra is not a professional counsellor, but is an AU student who would like to give personal advice about school and life to her peers. Please forward your questions to Sandra care of