Disappointed With Walden University

I’ve often sung Walden’s praises here on this blog, so it wouldn’t be right not to speak out when I am disappointed by the University. In short, though I have tried to remain patient (in action and in mind), I have been extremely frustrated with how long it has taken (and thus how expensive it has been) to gain approval to begin my dissertation study. I understand that many of these steps are necessary and that I would have had at least as frustrating an experience at a traditional university (if not more so), but it seems that in a few specific cases I could have experienced better service – and that in general there must be a better way, especially for a new generation of universities like Walden.

Here is a brief rundown of the timeline behind the approval of my study:

September 15 – This was the second week of the quarter. I completed a major rewrite of my proposal. This was the last week I completed significant work on my dissertation. I waited patiently two weeks for the committee to read the new version and nearly another two weeks until the Oral Conference was scheduled on October 10th.

October 13 – I completed a few minor revisions (which took only a few hours) following approval from the Committee during the oral conference. My advisor sent this version of the proposal to the Research Office on October 15th. Unfortunately the file he sent was infected with a virus (from his computer, not mine) and was thus not received. I waited patiently presuming I needed to wait two weeks to hear back. Sadly, the error was not discovered until I followed up and heard back from my advisor on October 29.

October 30 – The virus issue was finally resolved between my advisor and the Research Office. I was notified that the materials were due back from the reviewer on or before 11/12. My appeal for an expedited review due to the virus issue was denied because “other proposals were received before mine.”

November 14 – After following up with them myself on the 12th (following another two weeks of waiting patiently), I finally receive feedback from the research office… two days late. Contact your advisor is all they say. My advisor is out of the office for the week. I get a response back from him anyway, but without the reviewers’ comments. Luckily, the next day I convince the research office to forward me the comments. I finish the requested revisions (which contradicted recommendations from my committee) that night and returned the proposal to my advisor (again, this only took a few hours). The following day (now the 16th) my advisor informed me he’d look it over and pass it back to the Research Office… on Monday (the 19th). Though the reviewer promised a speedy response with the resubmission, I am not optimistic about getting it back before the Thanksgiving break. :(

November 17th – Today. The quarter ends on November 25. I don’t expect to have approval by then. It’s been exactly TEN WEEKS since I completed the major rewrite of my proposal. Of this, about six weeks of waiting would’ve been understandable. Two weeks were lost to the virus issue and another one due to this week’s difficulty getting the reviewer’s responses from the Research Office. Since September 15th I’ve worked all of 8 hours on my paper – and I’ve paid full tuition.

Waiting on the university is always painful, but the unnecessary delays make it worse, especially since I am racing the clock to finish my study before my first baby is due in February. My study is only eight weeks long, but with the holidays at this point I am not even optimistic about being able to complete my write up to get my final dissertation submitted (and started jumping through hoops) by March 1st, the deadline to graduate May 25th! If I miss March 1st, I won’t be graduating until August, which means another quarter of tuition. This is made all the more painful by the fact that I’ve now reached the lifetime limit of student loans from the federal government and am now paying for each quarter, which is a serious impact on my finances. Note that Walden stopped offering a reduced dissertation rate to students who are ABD just before I completed the last of my other requirements – so we now pay full price. :(

I always heard that the waiting was the worst part of Walden University, but I never understood that. My instructors and my advisor had always been responsive. Now I see, though, that dealing with the larger institution is the issue.

Also, Walden did away with the 4th “blind” reviewer on the dissertation committee about the time I started. This apparently cut down on the amount of miscommunication, conflicting advice/requirements, and general bad feelings associated with the dissertation process. Dissertation proposals, of course, still required review by the IRB for ethical reasons, but I noticed that this review by the Research Office is now called an “Academic Review” and more or less amounts to the 4th “blind” reviewer. The intent of the review (at least in part) is to ensure academic rigor throughout the organization regardless of the committee or committee chair. I think it is counter productive, though, (and not the intent of the review) for students to receive conflicting advice from the committee and the Research Office. The committee chair is in place for this very reason – to resolve conflicts between committee members who disagree, however the chair has very limited power to resolve a conflict with the research office.

Ultimately, there is no ONE BIG ISSUE for me to address here, but clearly this system does not serve the student well. I should not spend 10 weeks of a 12 week quarter waiting on the University bureaucracy while I pay full tuition. When I was taking classes I could understand how I was drawing on university resources. However, I have been a VERY minimal drain on university resources over the past two years of independent researching, writing KAMs, and preparing my dissertation. It is disappointing and frustrating that when I do need university employees to work for me the system performs so poorly.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this… Walden students, Ph.D. students in other schools, prospective students, people who sympathize, and people who think I’m acting entitled. It’s why I’m sharing. ;)

UPDATE 04/23/08: It turns out I didn’t actually want to bring people out of the woodwork who have had troubles with Walden. I know the issues you’ll read about in the comments below can happen at any University. Also, though this was a frustrating time for me, I know I might have been as frustrated or more in a traditional Ph.D. program. Since that time my committee has been heroic in their efforts to push my submissions through the system – and just last night I had my dissertation approved with minor edits following my oral defense. If I can complete all the form and style revisions quickly enough I expect to graduate next month and to walk this summer. I’m thrilled. And I say again unequivocally that Walden was an excellent learning experience for me over five years, despite this one quarter of frustration. I know other individual’s experiences may very, but I can whole heartedly recommend the school and the Educational Technology Ph.D. program. In keeping with good blogging ethics, though, I won’t be removing this post or the comments below. I’ll let this update set the story straight.

UPDATE 04/29/09: It’s been over a year since I wrote anything on this post, and it’s still attracting comments from people having their own negative experiences at Walden. While I’m sure these things happen at Walden as they do at any school, I’m no longer interested in this post, or my blog, being a magnet for them and I’m no longer interested in reading them. I consider the frustrations I had to deal with a challenging part of the process, and as I’ve said many times now, I fully expect they would’ve been worse (and more expensive) at a traditional institution. My frustration was at least in part due to my desire to hold Walden to a higher standard. And as I’ve said many times here and elsewhere, my doctoral experience at Walden was of a rigorous academic program – heavy on research and writing – and lead by amazing faculty from all over the world. Like any school I’ve attended, I know the individuals are more important than the institution and I understand that this therefor might not reflect everyone’s experience. I tend to believe the best a student can do is take responsibility for that, deal the best they can with professors and staff they’re having trouble with, and then do their best to control who they choose to work with more closely – it does no good to point the finger elsewhere. So for the record, I think I was acting entitled when I wrote this, and I’m not proud to have hung this dirty laundry out in public. But I’ll stick to the blogger’s ethic of not deleting a post. As a compromise, this will now be the first post on which I’ve turned off comments. Please email me if you think I can help with your problem… but if you want to vent publicly about your own frustrations, please do so elsewhere – maybe on your own blog. I just hope you don’t wind up regretting it too. ;)