“I ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”

10 01 2012

When I started blogging that online education session in Chicago last week, I never expected to be continuing an extended Ghostbusters analogy for four days. Yet if the shoe fits…

I don’t think I’m telling stories out of school to mention something our President and Provost told us about in our college meeting yesterday. Ghost students are students who sign up to take classes, pocket the financial aid, but never show up for class. Normally, this would be their loss, but if you never show up for your class at all the DOE makes the university in question pay back whatever federal financial aid that student got.

I’d seen stuff about this before so I know we aren’t the only ones trying to cope with this problem. Luckily, the solution is something I already do: Take attendance. That’s why the Provost told us that the technology that exists today cannot be employed to catch ghost students without the help of professors.

But how can you do this for an online course? One of my colleagues in music asked about that and the Provost said they hadn’t figured out how to solve this problem. Neither has anyone else since:

Colleges are not required to confirm the identities of students who apply for federal financial aid, and particularly for online programs and classes, they may never require a student’s physical presence.


In some cases, swindlers enrolled incarcerated inmates in online classes, converting federal financial aid checks into money orders sent to the inmates in prison. The Department of Education does not have a data-matching agreement with the Department of Justice for its Bureau of Prisons.

But let’s suppose we aren’t dealing with swindlers. One of the things both presenters said last week is that online teachers have to get used to teaching students who don’t respond to normal prompts like e-mails, phone calls or any other standard means of communication. One of them suggested that this might be because such students didn’t understand what an online class was really like before enrolling in one, but that excuse will only fly for so long. I’ve heard from secondary school teachers in our graduate program who teach at virtual schools that they end up spending most of their time making house calls to their ghost students in order to get them to participate, but with no financial aid involved there ends up being a conspiracy of silence if neither districts nor parents really care whether certain kids go to school or not.

Alright, I promise that’s the last you’ll read from me on the subject of Ghostbusters. It is not, however, all from me on the subject of online education. I just saw today that the program for this year’s OAH convention in Milwaukee is online. I browsed it since I’m on the program and saw that there’s another online education session there too. Right now, I’m planning to show up and do another report.

Maybe I can write an extended riff on The Breakfast Club.



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