University of Phoenix: Eating an Elephant One Bite At a Time

I earned my undergraduate English degree twenty years ago from a “traditional” college–almost everyone on the campus was young and attending school full-time. However, peppered within some of the classes were older students who were working toward something called a Bachelor’s of Liberal Studies. These women (they were all women) tended to be moms from the surrounding area who had stayed home to raise their children and were now, for the first time, focusing on their own educations and careers.

To a woman: they were living, breathing, sweater-set wearing nightmares.

If a professor asked for a 3-5 page paper, BLS students would write six pages–and then try to turn the assignment in early. Typically, at the beginning of any class, I’d be groggily attempting to rub a coffee stain off the cover of my latest project while the BLS student alongside me would be cheerfully explaining how, with just an embroidery needle and some dental floss, she’d professionally bound the pages of her latest paper into hand-sewn folio signatures. And then made cookies.

I understand the hunger for learning these women had better now that I’ve stayed home for 15 years raising two children of my own. Now I’m going to become one of them: a nontraditional student.

A couple of months ago the editors at GeekMom approached me with a proposition: I could take a class at University of Phoenix, any class that I wanted, online or at a campus–for free. In return, I just had to blog honestly about my experiences for GeekMom. If the initial experiment went well, this assignment had the potential to become an ongoing commitment where I would be invited to take multiple classes–even pursue a formal program.

Theoretically, everyone involved would benefit from this arrangement: University of Phoenix would be guaranteed informed, continuous media exposure; GeekMom.com would receive advertising revenue from University of Phoenix; I would be personally enriched by a tremendous professional opportunity (as well as by the class, itself); and you, our readers, would get to hear me gush extensively about the relative merits of online APA format generators (which along with computers and the “cut and paste” function of word-processing programs were not a part of my initial undergraduate experience back in the late ’80’s)…

Ideally, you would also read my analysis of an online, for-profit university experience and come away with insight into whether or not it was something that would benefit you. Despite the convenience these schools can offer to working individuals who may be juggling the additional responsibilities of child-rearing or active-duty military commitments, for-profit universities (and University of Phoenix, in particular) have garnered a substantial amount of negative publicity in the last few years, including (in 2007) allegations of:

  • Low graduation rates (particularly among younger students),
  • Student-recruitment abuses (i.e., recruiters given incentives to admit unqualified students),
  • Unqualified, disengaged instructors,
  • Over-dependence on part-time faculty,
  • An over-reliance on team-learning and independent learning, and
  • Too much material crammed into too few sessions.

My intent is to look into these criticisms as an enrolled student and share my observations, opinions and experiences with the GeekMom audience–particularly in regard to whether or not these allegations are still legitimate. As this assignment progresses, I would also be interested in hearing from other moms about their online or for-profit university experiences: What do you think works and what needs to be changed? Is the experience I am having (workload, instructor pedigree and involvement, academic support, etc.) similar to yours?

Last week was something of a whirlwind: I enrolled in the university and in preparation for my first course, Marketing 421, I immediately participated in a well-designed-though-intense, 3-day “new student orientation” workshop (that I plan to discuss in greater depth in my next post).

At the end of the workshop I received an email of helpful hints from my academic advisor entitled “How Do You Eat an Elephant? (Answer: One bite at a time).” It was good advice, actually.  This marketing course is only five weeks long–which means that the readings and participatory assignments are already progressing at what can only be described as a brisk pace…

So here it is, then: the first bite of my journey.

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The GeekMom blog is captained by Jenny Bristol and Corrina Lawson, and supported by a brilliant team of writers. Since launching in 2010, we’ve created a robust community of writers, readers, and media geeks, dedicated to the vision of creating a smart, savvy, social online experience for geek parents everywhere.