Cancellation of admission to Arts and Science Online leaves some Queen’s distance students scrambling

The Arts and Science Online (ASO) office on Queen’s University Campus. Kingstonist file photo.

With mere days before its campus practically shuts down for the winter break, Queen’s University has announced coming changes for its online Arts and Science students — changes which will see no further admissions to fully online degree or certificate programs and which will leave some students currently in these programs unable to obtain the degree and/or certificate they planned for.

On Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, a memo was circulated to all department heads and their assistants within the Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) at Queen’s. That memo stated that the Faculty had “carefully reviewed its academic program offerings through Arts and Science Online (ASO) and has decided to no longer accept new admissions to its fully online degree and certificate programs, as of January 2024.” ASO is the division of the Faculty of Arts and Science dedicated to the online delivery of Arts and Science courses.

“This decision was taken to ensure that resources, constrained under the university’s current budget deficit challenges, are used as efficiently as possible for faculty and students. The immediate budget imperative to structurally balance the faculty’s budget has accelerated this thinking. This decision will allow ASO to focus its resources on teaching and learning support for FAS instructors and departments, which will enrich the academic experience for both on-campus and distance students,” reads the memo, which has been posted online on Reddit. Kingstonist has obtained a copy of this memo directly to ensure its authenticity, though the source of that memo will remain anonymous.

“As a result, a limited number of distance students will be admitted to degree and certificate programs for the winter 2024 term, but not beyond. All current distance students in degree or certificate programs will be guaranteed a pathway to completion,” states the memo, signed by Bill Nelson, Associate Dean (Teaching and Learning) for the Faculty of Arts and Science.

“This decision affects ONLY the Arts and Science Online degree and certificate programs. All on-campus Queen’s students will continue to be able to take online courses and distance students who take all their courses online will also continue to be able to enrol in online courses next year and in the years to follow. This decision was communicated to applicants and current distance students today.”

Indeed, the decision was communicated to current distance students on the same date. However, those communications differed: Kingstonist has learned that not all distance students received the same communication, and not all of the communications shared the same information. Nelson’s memo to the department heads and assistants goes on to say, “Please share the information above with your staff and faculty, including adjuncts and TAs as you deem appropriate, as their employer. We suggest that you reassure them we will still be offering their online courses to our distance and on-campus students going forward and are there to support them.”

In one purported communication to those distance students, which was published online, a student received the same general information as above. That full memo can be found on Reddit, and read in part, “This decision does not have an impact on you as a current student. You will be able to complete your study plan, as all current distance students in degree or certificate programs are guaranteed a pathway to completion, and we would like to assure you that supporting you in making plans for your future is our priority. Every distance student’s path forward is unique, and we will help you find your way.”

But that is not the messaging all distance students through ASO received. One such student reached out to Kingstonist and shared the contents of the communication they had received (also on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023). That student, who will remain anonymous, said the following information was sent to “a portion of online students.”

The communication begins the same way as the other two: “Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) has carefully reviewed its academic program offerings through Arts and Science Online (ASO) and has decided to no longer accept new admissions to its fully online degree and certificate programs, as of January 2024.”

However, the next paragraph of the memo is different in the version that “a portion of online students” purportedly received, according to the anonymous student.

“You will be able to take our online courses next term and going forward, but the pathway to an online degree program or certificate via ASO is no longer available to you,” the communication reads.

“If you are interested in pursuing a degree, your ASO credits can be used as a basis of admission to apply for an on-campus program at Queen’s or you could apply to transfer your credits towards a degree at another university. We understand that you may be disappointed by this decision, and we would like to assure that supporting you in making plans for your future is our priority. Every distance student’s path forward is unique, and we will help you find your way.”

The student Kingstonist spoke with said their peers who have found themselves in the same boat — “a portion of online students” — are “distraught, hurt, disappointed, and feeling hopeless.”

“Queen’s did this four days before the campus and supports close, as well as during exam week… right before Christmas,” the student said. They also stated that those within the “portion of online students” who received the same communication indicating obtaining a degree or certificate through ASO would no longer be an option have started a petition.

Kingstonist reached out to Queen’s to confirm that admissions to the ASO program would cease in 2024, and to clarify whether current students on track towards a degree or certificate would still be able to obtain those credentials. We specifically pointed to the discrepancies in different communications received by current ASO students. The university responded with a statement from Associate Dean Nelson.

“All current distance education students in this degree or certificate program will be guaranteed a pathway to completion,” Nelson stated.

“Students admitted in the ‘interest’ and ‘non-degree’ continuing admission categories will be able to take courses, but they will no longer be able to start on a pathway to a fully online degree or certificate as FAS is not admitting new students to these programs. However, if they are interested in pursuing a degree, their ASO credits can be used as a basis of admission to apply for an on-campus program at Queen’s or they could apply to transfer credits towards a degree at another university,” the statement continued.

“All on-campus Queen’s students will continue to be able to take online courses.”

In short, students who are currently enrolled in “interest” or “non-degree” categories through ASO who’d previously been able to use their studies and credits towards a fully online degree or certificate if they so desired are no longer able to do so at Queen’s.

It is important to note that this decision solely impacts the Faculty of Arts and Science and specifically those in Arts and Science Online. Online classes and courses will continue to be offered in other programs at the university, with some faculties still offering degree programs which are completely online, such as the Faculty of Health Science.

This is a developing story. Further coverage will be provided as more information becomes available.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article indicated that the memo sent out on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, was sent to all deans and assistants. It has since been corrected to say that the memo was sent to all department heads and assistants, to reflect the addressees as clarified by Queen’s University. Queen’s also requested it be clarified that the ASO students affected are only unable to complete a degree or certificate “fully online” (meaning that on-campus options are still available) and only unable to do so “at Queen’s” (meaning the students may be able to do so at another post-secondary institution) This is reflected in the updated article above.

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