Can the Voice help gauge the importance to AU’s broad student body of having reliable and accurate information about the dates and timing of the annual convocation ceremonies at an early date? Would knowing with certainty by the beginning of the calendar year make a difference in whether an out-of-province student will decide to attend their own graduation? These are not idle questions. They can impact on AU’s public image and the economic benefit to the community.
The diversity and geographic dispersion of AU’s student body are without parallel among Canadian universities. It means that many of those who are scheduled to graduate from AU – unlike those who reside in Alberta and can easily drive from their homes to Athabasca – must make plans for long-distance travel from elsewhere in Canada or abroad, and reserve necessary accommodation if they want to attend the convocation ceremonies. In short, the cost burden for out-of-province students is much greater than for Alberta residents. Moreover, given the wide fluctuations in travel prices depending on when bookings are made, the difference between being able to do so months in advance instead of later can be substantial.
With cost and other considerations in mind, I recently contacted AU to confirm the dates of the 2018 convocation ceremonies prior to finalizing arrangements for multi-destination travel that would include a side trip to Athabasca to attend my wife’s graduation. The response was not fruitful, and appeared dismissive.
While AU Faculty members are probably cognisant of the unique situation of their student body, those in administration may be handicapped by the absence of appropriate cognitive models and conceptual lexicon for distance education institutions. Traditionally, a “student” has been a young person, usually in full-time physical attendance at a brick and mortar institution, and in an “in loco parentis” relationship. AU is breaking new ground. It students typically “attend” virtually via electronic communication, are older, and have other primary responsibilities in addition to their university studies. In short, many are adults with responsibilities equivalent to if not surpassing those of many AU admin personnel.
Slowness in deciding and announcing the dates of convocation serves to discourage attendance at that memorable event by AU’s very broad spectrum of students, diminishing the university’s ability to publicly showcase to best advantage what it has to offer as a leader in distance, post-secondary university education. The convocation decision-makers may wish to contemplate those broader considerations when deciding their priorities and timing.