Nov. 12 — Removing barriers
Each week, as part of our wide consultations as we prepare to develop a Strategic Plan, we pose a challenge to the campus: What If? Last week, we continued our series on the student experience to ask you about the barriers that students face, and how BU might approach removing those barriers.
Many of you identified a large number of barriers faced by students. Essentially, they clustered into a few themes. There are financial barriers, time barriers, and structural barriers
- Financial barriers were a significant concern in most responses. Generally, suggestions were to increase scholarships and bursaries for deserving students. However, some suggested also that more flexible payment plans or the use of credit cards be explored, and others pointed to tuition fees, for international students in particular.
- Time barriers included when and how often some core classes were offered, including remedial classes. But time barriers were also discussed around the many other commitments that university students have — lack of time to attend to university was a stress that cropped up in transportation, parking, career and other work, and family commitments, including childcare and finding family-friendly housing. Creating more flexible programming and adding facilities to assist students were common suggestions.
- Structural barriers were university policies or processes that may not make sense for all students. Some suggested that exceptions could be built in, others that the changes could be made across the board. Specific structural issues identified as barriers included the cumbersome application and student intake process (especially for first-in-their-family university attendees), technology issues (like the flood of BU student emails and password resets), and limited building hours (especially for study spaces like the library). Another structural barrier that was identified was ensuring that our staff and faculty accurately reflect the diversity of our students.
Some other specific barriers were identified, like inaccessible or broken facilities, including washrooms and elevators. We are passing those specific suggestions on to Physical Plant.
We also asked about barriers that we might want to keep in place, at least in some form. As an example, we suggested course pre-requisites might be a ‘barrier’ that serves a purpose. Nevertheless, we asked whether some of these barriers should be changed (with the goal of improving access to quality education for all), and whether there were other ‘barriers’ of that sort that we might want to keep, expand, or add.
This was one of the least-answered parts of this week’s What If. In general, people agreed with the assertion that pre-requisites (and pre-testing more generally), was a feature, not a bug, but several suggested ways to make it more equitable. Some suggested looking for alternative ways to measure readiness. This could mean assessing cultural knowledge and other achievements in the admissions decision, perhaps as part of PLAR. Others suggested working with other institutions, like high schools, to better prepare students for university requirements.
No one mentioned other pre-existing ‘barriers’ that might be considered features, for example English-language requirements, class registration caps, or the traditional dates/times of the academic year. If this sparks any further thoughts — or if you missed last week’s or any previous week’s What If, you can continue to participate below.