Letter to a Perspective Walden Student

Here is a letter I wrote in response to an email from a perspective Walden student. Many people have found my earlier posts on the Walden University Experience to be helpful, so now that I’ve spent so much time composing this, I’m also sharing it here… in my new Walden category.

[Perspective student],

I’m glad you wrote to me. First, I’d like to point you toward a blog entry I wrote on this topic a while back: http://edtechlife.com/?p=121

I ended up choosing Walden because they had one of the few doctoral programs focused explicitly on Educational Technology. (And frankly I found the much more expensive programs to be less exciting when I reviewed the curriculum.) Now that I’ve been in the program for three years, I can also recommend it for several other reasons.

Here are a few blurbs I wrote in response to a student survey the University recently sent out:

“I am particularly satisfied with my mentor… and with access to other students around the globe. For this reason I am happy about the addition of a forum for students with the same mentor who are working on their KAMs and dissertation. It brings a sense of collegiality that was missing in the writing phases before.”

“The residencies were extraordinary experiences and opportunities to meet with faculty and peers from around the world. I am sad to see the required residency units reduced. At the same time, I absolutely appreciate the online, distance, and at-your-own-pace nature of the Walden program.”

“The school’s philosophy [of affecting positive social change] now permeates all I do in my work with schools, districts, county offices of education, professional organizations, and my business… and other parts of my life as well. This does not translate into volunteer hours outside of work, but has significantly enhanced my focus and purpose in all areas of my life.”

“The benefits I always tout to others are the flexibility (in terms of time – and in terms of self-directed learning), the heavy research and writing focus, and the exposure to faculty and peers from other areas around the world.”

I’ll also take a stab at your questions below…

On Sep 19, 2006, at 7:49 PM, [Perspective Student] wrote:

I am considering applying to Walden for a Phd in Education (Education Technology). I would really like your advice. I am 20 miles from [location removed] and there are college campuses in the area, but I’d either be going for an EdD in Administration or a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction. I really want to obtain a degree in education technology, but I have so many hesitations.

I have narrowed my options down to three different institutions/programs and have decided to apply to all three and see what works out. I like Walden’s online format best, but am worried about financing since the other two are state schools.

I have several questions that I am hoping you can help me with.

1. Residency locations: Was this expensive outside of the posted costs? Will Walden be expanding the residency locations in the near future? I reside less than 20 miles from [location removed] and there are several campuses in the area.

Walden seems to always be expanding the residency locations. I wouldn’t count on anything closer to home, but I would expect new locations will continue to be added. When I started they weren’t in California (too much red tape), but now there are two a year within driving distance of me… and even though I’m done with my residency requirements, I’ll be dropping in.

2. Textbook costs: Is there an estimate on the estimated textbook costs for this program?

I’ve never heard of one… but its a normal amount of books, which is to say lots… I’d say to plan on at least $100 per course. But, really, this is small potatoes compared to the cost (and value) of your education – and it will be a similar cost anywhere else.

3. Tuition increases: I would like to see data on the tuition increases over the past 5 years in this particular program. Did your tuition increase several times and by how much?

Hm. My tuition did increase… twice I think. But this is still a good fee for a private school. It’s about the same as attending a University of California campus on in-state tuition. And UC tuition has gone up at least twice since I started, too, I believe.

4. Change in program: I’ve heard/read about distance learning programs that add on requirements once the student is well into the program. Once I begin the program, will the requirements change or will I be guaranteed to be “grandfathered” in to the original course of study?

Walden has updated the catalog at least twice since I started and some course numbers have changed. However, they – as will most schools – will absolutely honor the catalog under which you enrolled, which is the choice I have made and it is working well for me.

5. Dissertation guidance: What support is provided along the path of the dissertation?

This is a very individualized process (at any school), and developing relationships with your mentor, with the faculty that you invite to be on your committee, and with students who forge ahead of you is critical. There are many university support services (particularly writing services) available, which I don’t even use… yet.

6. KAM I, II, III: I understand each of these have three parts and a cumulative paper, but will all three parts be taken at once or separately?

They are done as a whole, but most students progress through breadth, depth, and application progressively. Simply put, each KAM is three 30 page papers. It is nothing to be afraid of… it simply must be tackled one part at a time. [Update: This process is a great way to build your knowledge base in the literature of your field and specialization… particularly in preparation for the literature review in your dissertation.]

7. Credibility: I will remain in my current district, so I don’t expect to be using the degree for an interview, but I am concerned about collegial disdain for other online diploma mills. Any thoughts?

Walden is accredited like any brick and mortar school, and by the same organization (in this case, the Higher Learning Commission). Now that I’m experienced with the program, I look at someone’s ignorant bias against the school as an opportunity to educate them about what is happening at Walden and what is possible in distance education these days. Now, there are things happening at MIT and Harvard and other “lesser” brick and mortar schools that cannot happen at Walden… but again, the exposure to experts and peers from around the world, who are still actively living and working in very different situations, has been extremely valuable for me. I was once in a class with a woman who was the tech coordinator at a high school in Iran. That kind of perspective is valuable.

My prediction: the reputation of Walden is going to continue to climb (and quickly) for a long time to come.

8. Challenge: I don’t want to take on too much, but I also want my money and time to be well spent. How rigorous did you find the work and assignments?

It’s rigorous. Make no mistake about it… if you do this, and you stick to it, your life will change. Your relationships will be strained. You will lose touch with friends. Your family will call you on your inattentiveness from time to time. If you are married, your marriage will be challenged. I did not believe it when they told me. But hear this… you are sacrificing 15 to 25 hours a week for four to seven years. It will happen.

Now, that being said, one of the greatest things I have gotten out of this experience has been the realization that I needed to live a more balanced life, and to take care of myself better. I am eating healthier, exercising more, and sleeping better than when I started… I quite caffeine, and I have learned how to prioritize my marriage, my friends, and myself.

I don’t know how people do this with kids, but they do.

And in the end, those who stick with it find it extremely valuable. It will be a personal as well as academic journey, and it will not only open doors, it will open up new resources within yourself.

9. Group work: I’ve read of nightmare situations involving group assignment with slacker group members. Did you find this?

I’ve had pretty good luck… though one quarter I did have 3 out of 5 group members leave a class on account of a death in the family… all during one assignment. That’s the other thing… life happens. People will get sick, have accidents, and some will die… over 4 to 7 years of your life… stuff is going to happen, births, marriages, job changes… you name it. And, there will be idiots and a-holes in your classes. And make no mistake about it, this is true at Harvard and MIT and “lesser” Universities, too. You will need to handle this as part of the experience. Much can be said for successfully relating to and negotiating with your professors and classmates.

I can say that I’ve had two professors that I didn’t like and didn’t agree with… one profoundly so. (Again, this will happen anywhere.) But, in both cases they were professionals and we came to an understanding.

Also, I have completed my FAFSA and wound up looking much better on paper than in reality due to a family owned business that basically runs the estimated taxes through the family members. I report this as income but actually just deposit the money and turn around and write a check to the IRS. This is a Sub-chapter S corporation. Without this money running through I would undoubtably be eligible for federal funding (I’ve never had a student loan before), but with this situation I am quite sure I would be denied. Do you have any suggestions? I could easily get a notarized statement on company letterhead explaining how the taxes on the business are paid, but it won’t change my tax return numbers. Is Walden student friendly in this area or are you just left to find your own resources if you don’t fit the typical eligibility mold?

My understanding is that pretty much anyone can get Federal Loans… especially for Grad School. The good news is, the loans actually cover the expense of Walden. In my book, the debt is worth it… I’m going to pay it off just fine… and I couldn’t do this without it. That’s why it’s there. Use it.

I am sorry to burden you with all of this, but I haven’t been able to find anyone in the exact program I am looking to join.

Well, I hope my answers are no burden. I got on something of a roll. In fact, after putting this much time into it, I’m going to post this online at my blog to share with other perspective students.

Good luck with your decision.