UAA owes education students a refund

College students often complain that their degree is worthless. Some feel they aren’t learning enough to prepare them for the real world. Others feel the money they spent amounts to nothing but a piece of paper that employers increasingly care less about.

On Jan. 11, the weekend before the first week back to school, students of the School of Education literally feared that their degree was now worth nothing after they received a vague email stating that the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation had revoked accreditation for several programs.

Those programs include early childhood education, early elementary education, master of arts in teaching secondary education, special education and early childhood education.

Unfortunately, the university has not handled this well. The public meeting scheduled for students to hear more from Chancellor Cathy Sandeen conflicted with Anchorage School District operating times, where many students were busy teaching as a part of their internships. For those that were able to sacrifice precious time teaching to attend, their questions were answered with hollow assurances and uncertainty.

Why has the School of Education failed to meet the standards for accreditation? The only information available is the CAEP report stating that four programs only met one of their five re-accreditation standards. The report provides vague rationale coated in acronyms and jargon, and hardly anyone seems to be trying to translate for the rest of us.

Luckily, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development announced that 2019 spring and summer graduates would still receive their recommendation for licensure recognized. But that leaves out the two next most important considerations: whether future graduates would even receive the recommendation to the State of Alaska to teach in the first place, and whether students who aren’t set to graduate by summer 2019 should even continue with their degree.

The only excuse the university can seem to muster is that they were only notified of the council’s decision as of recent. However true, it doesn’t account for the fact that the program failed to meet an entire 80 percent of its accreditation standards with full knowledge of the expectations of the process and plenty of time to ensure it was fulfilled.

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Education students are now left wondering what this means for the rest of their career. For whatever reason, UAA has failed them. The only proper restitution available, and the kind UAA has an obligation to provide, is repayment to their student accounts.

Those who are seeking a master’s degree or are looking to enter competitive job pools are significantly less well-off. When the choice comes down to two applicants whose only difference is a program that was discredited in scandal, it’s not hard to see who an employer is more likely to pick.

The university can tell students that they’ll be just fine, but no matter how they put it, the degree they paid tens of thousands of dollars for is now worth less than its original value. They paid for one thing and got something different.

On that basis alone, UAA should partially refund the deducted value of their degree. What that value amounts to should be determined by the university and paid out within the next two years.

As for students who don’t qualify for the state’s exemption? Sophomores and juniors in their programs have already spent a significant amount of time and money trying to become a teacher. It’s unreasonable to expect them to simply finish out their classes and hope that the programs get re-accredited a few years later. The School of Education is in crisis, and cannot currently promise it will deliver on a degree that will guarantee licensure.

Thus, students currently in their programs should be able to request a refund for the classes they have already taken. Alternatively, the university could help assist in the cost of transferring to UAF or UAS, where they may be able to meet the rest of their requirements under an accredited program.

Giving students what they are due is the best step UAA can take to begin to restore trust in the university system, which has certainly been lost among students of the School of Education. If UAA is unable to offer anything but assurances when one of their programs become obsolete, so will the rest of us.