Administrators at Wichita State University hand-delivered chocolate bars and written apologies this week after a computer glitch mistakenly informed 67 Wichita-area senior citizens that they had flunked a class they audited and imperiled their “financial aid.”
“Your cumulative GPA (grade point average) is 0,” the letter informed them. “Effective immediately, you are placed on financial aid suspension.”
Many recipients of the letter are accomplished senior citizens, unaccustomed to hearing they flunked a class anywhere, WSU official Kimberly Moore said Wednesday.
Moore and her staff drove all over Wichita and Mulvane this week, carrying 1.5-ounce Cocoa Dolce “Shockolate” bars and a letter of apology.
There was no GPA requirement for the April class on Kansas history, Moore said. There was no financial aid at stake; they were taught as “auditors,” so they learned at no charge.
The apology – and the class that preceded it – produced such enthusiasm among the seniors that several said they want to sign up for more WSU classes, Moore said.
“We are very sorry for any confusion or inconvenience this may have caused you,” WSU’s apology letter told the students. “Although the review of academic progress is a matter of compliance for federal aid applicants, the non-degree audit course you enrolled in for spring should have been excluded.”
“Controversies in Kansas History” was taught at Larksfield Place, a retirement community near 29th Street North and Rock Road. No one at Larksfield did anything wrong, WSU officials said. No offense was taken after WSU apologized, said Reg Hislop, Larksfield’s chief executive officer.
Quite the opposite, he said.
“We thought what they did here was cool,” Hislop said. “In spite of whatever this glitch was, everybody here is looking forward to more WSU classes.”
The glitch happened in part because federal regulations require universities to evaluate all students based on academic progress for federal aid purposes, said Sheelu Surender, WSU’s director of financial aid.
There was a fee for the class, she said – an “infrastructure” fee required of many classes – but WSU’s academic affairs department paid it. The seniors who took the class were not required to pay anything.
But the computer apparently decided the seniors auditing the free class were regular students paying tuition with financial aid. So the letters got sent, Surender said.
“I feel bad,” she said.
But WSU is welcome back any time, said Larksfield’s Hislop. About half the students who took the course are residents of Larksfield, but the class was open to anyone else who wanted to take it. People drove from all over the Wichita area, including Mulvane, to take the course, Moore said.
WSU cooperated with Larksfield and set up the class as a pilot program to learn whether the university can pioneer a new outreach program to seniors, said Moore, director of WSU’s Workforce, Professional and Community Education Office.
“We’ve heard from many people that many seniors would like to take classes with WSU, but that parking and the campus can be confusing to some,” she said. “President (John) Bardo has encouraged everyone to find new ways to reach out to the community, so we set up this program in part to see what interest there might be.”
The class was taught by Jay Price, a WSU professor and chairman of the history department.
“There was no requirement that they do papers, but the students were very energized by what they learned, and several actually wrote papers for the class,” Moore said.
Because of the success, WSU is planning at least two more courses in various locations, including at Larksfield. One will be about “Downton Abbey” and another on “Archeology and the Bible.”
Anyone wanting to audit a class can contact Moore at 316-978-6484, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kimberly Moore, 1845 Fairmount, Box 136, Wichita State University, Wichita, KS 67260.