A synonym for disparate is distant; how apropos. I’m a graduate student at State U where students compete fiercely for limited resources, though distant learners rarely seem to get the opportunity to even enter the ring. Maybe that’s unfair. Let me rephrase that. I’m a little fish in a big pond. Worse yet, I’m a little fish in the puddle left over from the last flooding – physically and psychologically separated from the pond ecosystem. For some reason, I feel better about saying that statement – like maybe it presents State U in a more favorable light, because I do love State U; but worse about the existence of the truth behind the statement – that it is ok for me to call myself a State U fish as long as I understand that I can never actually live in the pond and be part of that ecosystem – an ecosystem teeming with life, while the only element we share is water. Learning at the back door, as I suppose we are doing, comes with an unspoken set of rules and those rules clearly communicate our relegated positions. In choosing to be a distant learner, apparently I accept the existence of these unspoken rules. In my frustration, I can’t help but ask if this picture matches the vision that Charles Wedemeyer had about accessibility in education.
Want to participate in a graduate student organization as a distant learner? Want to become a GA, TA or RA as a distant learner? Want access to visitor lectures, college meetings, extra-curricular activities as a distant learner? It is in the absence of access to these and other opportunities in which naysayers ground their disparity argument to begin with! The rational conclusion, then, is that universities with distance education programs are perpetuating the very disparity which they claim to be working so fervently to overcome.
So, have I been wrong this whole time? IS distance education in higher education really for learners who just want a degree and nothing more? Whenever I let myself believe that this is not the case, I get another e-mail about the available opportunities on campus – opportunities that are not available to me as a distant learner. Why? Given the tools available today, there really are no excuses for anything less than parity – not just pertaining to access – but among opportunities and the availability of those opportunities to each and every interested student.