Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A letter

The letter I wrote to the Vice President of Online Educational Services is below. I wrote the blog entry directly below this before I wrote this letter. You may want to attempt sequential order. I sent this out already but I would love any input and any opinions about the following letter.

Dr. Stein,

I was very happy to see the letter you sent congratulating me on my scholastic achievements. Even if it is a cleverly made form letter sent out via email it still was cool to get acknowledgement. Please understand that I mean the thank you because I am seizing the opportunity of receiving your email as a way to get a few things of concern off my mind.

I am in my second semester at Art Institute Online and I really enjoyed a lot of the people in the previous 2 courses I have taken. However I have not been pleased with the lack of control I have in my education or the fact that I do not get to decide what classes I take and when I take them. I am not new to higher education; I have a Bachelors Degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Northern Arizona University. I understand that every degree has certain required course and some courses have prerequisites. I also understood that even though it was pretty regulated at NAU I had a huge say in what I took each semester and I took full advantage of that. At Art Institute Online you do not get to do that the freedom to choose is missing. Which was kind of a shock but not a problem until recently. You see I wanted to go back to school and when I stumbled across this school I allowed myself to be rushed right in. It was kind of strange to go from thinking about school to starting my first class within a month before my transcripts or financial aid had been figured out. Strange as that was it's was happened to me and I didn't really mind that until I realized that all my transcripts did not get accepted. I had taken College Algebra and Trigonometry in a community college down in Phoenix, AZ a few years back and had not had to take math at NAU as a result of it. When I was told that I would need to take Basic Mathematics and Intermediate Algebra at this school I was stunned. When I asked about why I had to take them I was told that they were required per the Student Handbook. When I pointed out the fact that I had math courses in my transcripts and did not understand why those courses, which are a higher level and accepted at another school of higher education, were not accepted here I was told that "they must not have been transferable". Then I was told that it was "too late to do a credit challenge". That was the first and last explanation I received about the mysterious non-transferable math courses or the "credit challenge". I hadn't been given a chance to challenge the credits and my first awareness that I could have was when I was told that it was too late to do so. I was given a choice to take an accuplacer test or to take the courses. I tried to find the time to take the test but my time and the rules of the accuplacer exam did not mesh. I even tried to talk to Art Institute of Portland to see if they could help me out. They told me they did not do accuplacers and the person on the phone kept asking me why my credits were not able to be transferred which I of course could not answer. So I started emailing people to see if I could push the math courses back until I could find the time to set the test up but I received no response back from my Admissions Coordinator or my Academic Advisor. I was really at the mercy of the school because I had jumped through hoops to get the financial aid in place to attend and then the school selects the courses you take each semester. I have no clue about how to stop or if I could have stopped the classes from being forced on me and I really don't have any idea how to stop the financial aid that has already been sent to your school from going towards paying for classes that I can't get a clear answer on why I have to take them. The worst part is no one seems to be willing to tell me or even acknowledge the questions.

All this has resulted in a person that is very frustrated with this school. I believe that there is a lot of cool courses waiting for me just beyond this rocky shore but to get there I am shoved into a lifeboat with a hole in it with water seeping through at an alarming rate with an oar made out of cardboard that is disintegrating as I row towards refuge. I don't feel like I am given the skills to navigate the school and the lack of face to face interaction prevents me from being able to show up at every door until I get an answer. I have never understood the expression "I felt like a cog in a machine" before but I certainly get the expression now. At this point I have come to one realization that I have to take these math courses but not because of why the school thinks I need them. The reasons I see are because the class for Basic Math has already started and I doubt any money would go back to my financial aid debt for dropping out. If it would I have no idea how to get it done. I am still trying to get the extra money that I asked for from the creative arts education loan that I took so I could afford the books and required software. Without that little extra I am struggling to come up with the money for books and this class's book is a whopping 120 dollars. Which is a smack in the face considering it is a class I shouldn't have ever had to take in the first place. My options after the steamroller known as AiO required are done with me is to continue with a school that has no interest in what I say or to drop out and try to find a new path to my dream. Neither option is entirely satisfying for me but I can tell you which one looks the most unappealing at the moment staying in this school. I am at the point where I can't tell anyone why I want to continue to go to AiO. All I see in front of me is the potential for more of the same bad experiences. I don't get to pick my courses, I have no idea who to ask for advice (since I am not impressed by those hired to offer it so far), and most importantly my issues were not taken seriously enough to get a proper response on them. I really have no idea what writing this email will do for me. In the end probably nothing, you will probably find someone else to take my place should I decide to not attend school any longer and this email will probably never make it past your secretary. I will be lucky to get an out of office reply judging from the other people I have dealt with. The thing I wanted to write this email for was to get a weight off my shoulders and to let you know that this system is not a good one, at least as far as I am concerned. I also wanted to rattle some cages and see if anyone is interested in what a student has to say. What I hope is the result of the letter is some serious thought to reform of how the curriculum is structured, how to help a student feel like his opinion and concerns matter, a better system to address various issues and more contact when something goes wrong. It would also be nice to have my personal issue addressed.

Thank you for your time,
Michael Williams

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