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On auditing courses

Why do colleges charge so much to just audit their courses? Normally it’s the same fee as taking courses for credit. In fact, why do colleges charge at all for auditing courses? I see several advantages (and no disadvantages) to colleges letting people (students and non-students) audit their courses for free:

  1. First and foremost, it’s a great plug for the university’s reputation. In a world of knowledge that’s increasingly leaning toward open and free, it would be great publicity for any college that lets the world-at-large audit its courses. No one’s telling them to give away credits for free – that’s where they can charge their exorbitant tuition fees.
  2. In order to charge tuition fees, colleges need students. What better way to attract potential students than letting them try out what they think they want to study?
  3. Letting students audit a course carries virtually no overhead for colleges in this electronic age. It costs just the same to e-mail 30 students as it does to e-mail 20, and placing reading materials online is subject to the same principle. If it’s an art course or something similar, it would be fair for the college to charge a fee for equipment and what not, which would be the same as regular accredited students pay.
  4. If the class involves writing papers and taking tests, and if the auditing student wants to participate in those, the university could easily either charge an additional fee, or leave it at the lecturer’s discretion whether to accommodate such students and to what degree. Maybe they wouldn’t mind reading the auditor’s paper. If a student who’s not getting credit is willing to write a paper, I would think it would behoove the respectable lecturer to oblige them by reading it and offering their input, even if they’re not getting paid for it.
  5. No one is saying that colleges should let anyone and everyone audit their courses. If a course is generally capped at 20 students, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, given all the benefits outlined above, to allow 5 students to audit that course, or even 5 students of the university and 5 non-students from outside the university.

I think colleges should seriously consider letting people audit their courses for free. If they’re confident in their faculty and their teaching, it can only work to their benefit.

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