Robert Faulkner has worked in information technology for the past fifteen years. He is married and is currently working in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, where he continues to enjoy the IT profession.
In August 2004, I made the decision to return to college and finish my formal education as an undergraduate. I was 40 years old with an associate’s degree from an out-of-state community college.
My information technology career was very satisfying and progressing as I had hoped. As something of a sideline, I had accepted a rewarding opportunity as a part-time computer instructor in the continuing education department of a North Carolina community college. While teaching, I learned that an instructor with an undergraduate degree could earn a little more than someone with an associate’s degree. I greatly enjoyed teaching and contemplated it as a target for an eventual career change.
It was time for me to return to college.
The college of choice was East Carolina University (ECU) because it offered a distance education program that catered to adult learners. I had heard many good comments about the program. This was going to be an excellent opportunity for me to complete my degree, and perhaps it would open a door to a career transition from IT into teaching.
ECU offered a BSBE (a bachelor’s degree in business education) through its distance-education program, which was included under the university’s section of Information Technology. After I spoke with a school advisor, we jointly determined that the BSBE degree would be the best choice for my long-term goal of moving from IT into teaching.
Having never experienced distance education or the academic challenges of a business education curriculum, I entered the school without any particular bias and perhaps with a bit of naivete. I enrolled as a part-time student. But two years after beginning the program, I made a very simple and easy decision—to leave.
What I am about to say is my opinion about my academic experiences with the BSBE program; it may not reflect how other degree programs function at the college. The distance-education program at ECU had some positive aspects; however, they were limited to the flexibility of attending class on my own schedule and the use of technology in providing the classes over the Internet. (The technology utilized to conduct the on-line classes was outstanding.)
Attending the school in this manner was certainly not a traditional way of “college life” but, at my age and with my life experiences, I was not interested in “college life.” As an adult learner, I simply wanted to learn new things, to expand my breadth of knowledge, and, I guess to a lesser extent, to become socially accepted as a better person because I had a degree.
ECU presented its distance education program as a program for adult learners. But after taking various courses over the two years in the BSBE program, I found not only that the program was weak for adult learners but that the school appeared weak in providing quality courses—at least within the business education department. The academic competence required to obtain a “good” grade in nearly all of the courses I took was minimal. Almost all the courses I enrolled in (which included upper-level courses) appeared to be, at best, at a freshmen competency level. One course in the BSBE program was about instructing students how to be administrative assistants—that is, how to take notes, make flight arrangements, and fulfill other secretarial duties.
Another class required the reading of a short novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance (which is also a movie) that involved one person helping another person “find” himself. There was meaning to the story, but after reading it, we took an exam that consisted of remedial-level questions similar to, “What did John say when he found out about the game?”
I was hoping for the exam to be composed of essay questions, which could have allowed us (the students) to delve into our own minds and make correlative references to the story. Unfortunately, there were no questions that truly challenged the mind to think—there were no questions about the psychological impact of what took place in the story. And it remains unclear to me how the reading of this story had much to do with business education.
Within those two years at ECU, I completed ten college-level courses, for which I received nine As and one B (in a class where I wearied of the busy-work). These grades looked good, and several “special” societies contacted me requesting that I become a member of their “elite” organizations. In spite of these grades, I walked away from the program having learned nearly nothing. Much of the course curriculum content appeared to cater to a “least common denominator.”
I often questioned if anyone else was experiencing these same issues. I eventually wrote one of the instructors asking if the on-line courses (for adult learners) are the same as what was taught in the classroom for “college-age” students. The response was “yes.” This was an epiphany. It was evident that my success with the BSBE curriculum would involve nothing more than going through the motions to obtain a piece of paper. So, with approximately two years of course work still remaining for the completion of my degree, since many of my two-year college courses did not transfer, I walked away from the program.
My expectations of being challenged in an academic environment were not met. In addition to experiencing what appeared to be low expectations for the students, I found that a couple of the courses had content that I already knew simply by working in my profession. A few of the textbooks appeared antiquated in their content and contained misleading information. Issues like these made it difficult to learn and grow.
Prior to my official departure from the school, my advisor sent an email requesting if I would be returning as a distance-education student for the next semester. In my email response to the advisor, which I also sent to the school's vice-provost, I expressed my concerns with the quality of education that the school was providing. Secretly, I was hoping to receive some kind of letter in return from the school, but I never did.
After I officially departed the school, a form letter with a questionnaire was sent to my residence requesting why I chose to leave the college. It was not difficult to express my concerns and dissatisfaction with the education that I paid for. Just as with the email, I never received a response.
Not all my experience at ECU was negative. The instructors who taught the on-line courses did an exceptional job of delivering their class material and setting up their class programs. My GPA is now higher than it was, in case I wish to pursue my degree somewhere else.
But it is a shame that nearly all of the courses I enrolled in only took a minimal amount of effort to receive an “A.” If I decide to apply my time and money elsewhere, I intend to make sure that they are better spent.