Part-time degrees more difficult

Students hoping to complete a communications degree solely on weekends and evenings may have a more difficult time now that the University of Calgary changed funding for the Weekend University program.

“Weekend University has been around for at least a dozen years with the intention of making it possible for a full-time working adult to complete an entire degree on the weekend,” said communication and culture acting department head Doug Brent. “In fact, the current calendar specifically states that’s the case.”

The former communication and culture faculty guaranteed students they would be able to complete a bachelor of communication and culture with a communications minor or a BA in communications studies within a certain number of years taking only classes at non-traditional times.

These were the only programs with a guarantee of course availability at these times.

Brent said the guarantee was possible due to an agreement with special sessions, a branch of Continuing Education handling all credit courses outside of traditional hours. Students enrolled in weekend and evening classes would cover classroom costs through their tuition, as opposed to the communication and culture department’s budget.

Students’ Union vice-president academic Alyssa Stacey said the recession caused the school to reevaluate this policy.

“There used to be money allocated though special sessions so courses could be created at no cost to the faculty,” said Stacey. “However, the special sessions have been abolished and there’s no lump sum of money given from enrollment to the faculty.”

David Johnston from U of C enrolment services said the school is going though a transitional period due to the Arts Faculty amalgamation and a new funding formula for departments. Johnston said the Weekend University program was a marketing strategy by the communication and culture faculty promising students a range of courses on Saturdays and in the evenings.

“That’s still the case, except we’re no longer promoting it as Weekend University,” he said. “The Faculty of communication and culture no longer exists, so we’re starting to use the more appropriate term ‘part-time studies’.”

Brent said with the university strapped for funds, corners will be cut. Summer funding for the program will still be split, allowing the department and faculty to get half the tuition fees back to cover course costs. Once fall semester begins, any funding directly from tuition will be cut, financially hindering the

department’s ability to offer weekend courses.

“If a course was running on the weekend and twenty students took it, that amount of money would be split,” said Brent. “Some went to the university, some went to special sessions and some went to pay the instructor. Not very much went back to the department, but nothing had to come out of the department, and that was the important part. So we could offer a course and not be on the hook for the money.”

Under the new funding structure the Faculty of Arts will receive funding based on the total enrollment in weekend and evening classes, not the net cost of offering the classes.

“The faculty is now faced with what to do with the money,” said Stacey.

“It basically now just has to meet their overall enrollment targets and that’s the only restriction on this money.”

Brent said that due to pressure from administration to offer large classes, weekend courses, which typically have lower enrollment, have less financial incentive. He remains committed to the program, however.

“We in the department of communication and culture have pretty much made it an issue to keep Weekend University alive to continue to provide the courses people will need in order to complete a degree,” said Brent. “But it’s obviously becoming more difficult to do so.”

“I was assured by the registrar that some provision will be made to encourage departments to offer courses for the benefit of part-time students,” said Brent. “But we don’t know quite what that encouragement is going to be yet.”

Johnston said the change will have little impact on students as the U of C is still committed to part-time studies and students are still able to try and complete degrees entirely through weekend and evening classes.

“In theory, they can do it part time, [but] it requires a lot of work,” said Johnston. “We’re optimistic that we will continue to offer enough courses on weekends and evenings that students could get a degree over time. The reality is that very few students do.”

He added that the majority of student demand is for courses Monday to Friday.

“According to a survey I recently conducted, at least 250 students identify themselves as taking a degree entirely on the weekend,” said Brent. “The response rate in that survey was only a third, so there could be 750 or 1,000 students out there to whom we’ve promised a degree on the weekend. I think it’s important that we keep this up. Things are in flux, but in these times we can’t afford to lose 750 of our best students.”

Stacey believes the change in programming may force some strictly weekend and evening students to take day classes– a change the U of C website doesn’t reflect.

“The issue is in the calendar, students need to know this and non-traditional students need to know this,” said Stacey.

Brent remains confident that a solution will be found that allows students to continue to complete degrees outside of traditional class time.

“My message to students who still consider themselves Weekend University students is not to panic yet,” said Brent. “What I hope is that we can continue to advertise that we are currently the only university in Canada that does promise courses will be available on the weekend.”

The U of C’s calendar’s statement on Weekend University will be reworded to reflect the guarantee changes within the next few weeks, in time for the release of the 2010/2011 calendars.

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