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Going the distance for a degree

Going the distance for a degree

Continuing and Distance Studies, the oldest such program in North America, is still going strong. In fact, it’s growing again.
[photo of CDS staff]The CDS staff includes (l-r) Bev King, Candy Randall, Su
Earle, Maria Cardoso, and Annette Brick, as well as
Wilma Fernetich, Artsci’85, and Murray Davis, absent
when this photo was taken. Photo by L. Mechefske.

While “long distance” students currently can obtain a full degree in three subject areas, English, history and psychology, Continuing and Distance Studies (CDS) will soon be offering new courses in such in-demand subject areas as global development and organic chemistry. With the help of the Principal’s Innovation Fund, CDS staff are also working toward introducing a new certificate program in Life Sciences.

At the same time CDS is streamlining its admission process so there will be just one application for those who want to work toward a degree and those who only want to take a course or two.

“Queen’s is physically restricted in the number of students it can accommodate on campus, and so the increased use of online technology for distance learning makes more sense than ever,” says CDS Manager Bev King, Artsci’89. “With both tuition and the demand for a university education rising, the wide availability of the Internet, and the fact Queen’s, like all universities, is seeking new sources of revenue, it’s clear that online learning has a lot to offer to students and to the University.”

In fact, distance education has been filling a need for the past 121 years. It’s a little-known fact the University was the first in North America to offer “distance education.” Queen’s was the pioneer in the field, offering the first correspondence courses on the continent. The universities of Chicago and Nebraska soon followed suit, but Queen’s led the way.

Queen’s Senate officially formalized a policy in 1889 that allowed students who could not attend classes to complete their assignments by mail. At first, those students had to come to campus to write their examinations, but that changed in 1892 when three students from the frontiers of western Canada succeeded in convincing Queen’s officials to let them write their exams off campus, with a Queen’s-­appointed proctor presiding.

By 1931 there were 197 examination centres from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Victoria, BC, catering to students writing their Queen’s examinations. By WWII, the University had made allowances to enable Canadian soldiers fighting in Europe to take courses and even to write their examinations overseas. This opened up Queen’s courses for thousands of students from all over the globe.

There are hundreds of poignant stories of individual students completing their degrees against the odds. From soldiers in the field to prison inmates, people in remote mining towns of Labrador or the Canadian north to those who came after the Great Depression from the drought-ridden and impoverished Prairies; many of these students came in droves to attend summer school at Queen’s or to complete their residency requirements in order to obtain their degrees.

Then, in 1971, the residency requirement that required correspondence students to attend at least one session on campus was dropped. This meant a student could potentially obtain his or her degree without ever setting foot on campus. And in the years since, more changes have ensued, with new technologies including computers, email, Internet, and remote access to libraries. The old days of crossing northern ice floes to reach an examination centre or of mailing course materials back and forth were over.

Students such as Megan Fremeau benefitted. Megan had always wanted to study at Queen’s. She intended to do so and got accepted when she graduated from high school in 1994, but life got in the way, and it wasn’t until 2003 that she finally began her studies, taking English 110 by correspondence. For the remainder of her studies, she managed to take a minimum of two courses per year, which she balanced with a full-time job and her responsibilities as a mother. Megan’s graduation ceremony in October 2009, at which she received a BA with a minor in English, was her first-ever visit to campus.

She has only good things to say about the CDS program. “Doing my degree by correspondence wasn’t the easy route,” she says, “but for me, and for many others like me, it was the only route, and without CDS I would not have my Queen’s degree.”

Megan is right. There are many others like her; enrollment in CDS programs this year is more than 5,000 students. And it’s because of this and a growing demand for distance education that CDS is expanding the range of its programs that the CDS program’s future has never been brighter. B

For more information on CDS please visit www.queensu.ca/cds/.

[Queen's Alumni Review 2010-1 cover]