Tackling Continuing Education at American University

Going back to school can be an incredibly rewarding experience, and you don't have to commit to being a student full-time to reap those rewards. Whether you're looking to get ahead at work or you just want to know more about the world, continuing education (CE) programs offer you the chance to study virtually any subject you might have an interest in and to do it at a pace that's comfortable for you.

Don't be fooled, though: continuing education programs give you flexibility in terms of scheduling and let you pursue studies in the subjects that interest you most, but that doesn't mean courses aren't demanding or that expectations aren't high. American University is one of the most prestigious schools in the country. Courses are rigorous, and you're held to the same high standards as a CE student that you'd be held to if you were an undergraduate or graduate student.

That's OK. You knew going in that you'd face challenges. Nothing worthwhile comes without hard work. If you're going to face those challenges and overcome them, though, you need to have a concrete sense of just what they are.

In general, American University CE students must meet two kinds of standards. The first of these is fairly obvious: you have to excel academically. That's about more than just taking courses. If you want to continue to be eligible to enroll each semester, you have to do well in the courses you sign up for. Sometimes, that's easier said than done. The second standard has to do with your life outside of the classroom. AU expects you to be a productive member of the campus community. That means you have to abide by the school's rules and policies, of course, but in a more general sense, it means you have to respect other members of the AU community and maintain a high level of honesty and integrity as a scholar and as a person.


Let's start by talking about American University's academic expectations for CE students. After all, the whole reason you've decided to go back to school in the first place is to learn. In practical terms, what does learning mean at AU?

Continuing Education at American University

American University refers to its continuing education students as “non-degree” students. The school doesn't offer any CE degrees, and it doesn't offer its own certificate programs. Students aren't allowed to take more than eight hours a semester. However, you are free to take courses in any subject you choose and apply these towards degrees at other institutions or towards certificate programs you're completing through work or other programs.

The advantage of this approach is that you can take virtually any course you choose, even graduate courses if you have the appropriate prerequisites. In fact, when it comes to most undergraduate courses, all you need to do is register and pay tuition. There are some exceptions. Certain schools at AU require prior approval before taking any courses as a non-degree student.

  • Kogod School of Business: Requires approval before taking any course. You must have met all course prerequisites, have satisfactory GMAT scores, and a satisfactory GPA in the last 60 hours of coursework.
  • School of Communication: Requires approval before taking any non-degree course.
  • School of International Service: Requires approval before taking any course at the 500, 600, or 700 level.

If you are enrolled in another college or university, you must be in good academic standing to enroll at AU. In addition, you should note that AU does not allow you to take any non-degree courses if you are currently a full-time student at any other member school in the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area.

Finally, AU expects you to meet GPA expectations just like any other student at the university. Should your grade point fall below a cumulative 2.0, you are placed on academic probation. Failure to raise your GPA can result in dismissal from the non-degree program. This standard applies as soon as you have completed 12 hours of coursework. That means you really need to hit the ground running. Also, AU uses a plus/minus grading system. Only an A garners 4 points. An A minus is worth just 3.7 points. The same is true for all other grades. You can opt to take courses for Pass/Fail grades. However, many certification programs don't credit Pass/Fail grades toward completion of the certificate.

Tuition Policies

In addition to its other requirements for non-degree course registration, American University makes clear that you must take care of all financial obligations before you can register. Tuition is “around $4,500” for a three-hour course, not including books and other course fees.

You should also be aware that American University offers no financial aid, grants, or merit awards for non-degree students.

Attendance Policies

American University leaves attendance matters up to individual instructors. Most professors place some limits on the number of classes you can miss and enforce penalties should you exceed that number. Penalties could include a lowered grade or even dismissal from the course.

AU does require instructors to excuse certain kinds of absences. These include

  • Major religious holidays, as identified by the Office of the Provost
  • Medical or mental health events
  • Approved absences related to disability accommodations

However, you are expected to make up any work you miss if you are absent, and an excessive number of absences, even excused absences, can result in being dropped from the course.

Academic Misconduct

All schools expect their students to abide by an Honor Code when it comes to completing coursework. After all, there's not much value in a degree you obtained through dishonest means.

American University's Academic Integrity Code mentions nine separate kinds of academic misconduct, and like any other student at the school, you're expected to abide by the rules.

  • Plagiarism: The attempt to pass another person's words or ideas off as your own. Obviously, you're not supposed to buy your term paper from an online paper mill. Even failing to include quotation marks around a quote can get you into trouble, though.
  • Inappropriate Collaboration: The key word here is “inappropriate.” As the policy notes, instructors often ask students to work together. However, “collaboration becomes inappropriate when the originality of the work is lost.” Generally speaking, your instructor will clarify what this means in any given course.
  • Dishonesty in Examinations: The use of any unauthorized resource in completing an examination. This can include anything from using a crib sheet while taking a test to asking another person to take the test for you.
  • Dishonesty in Papers: Similar to plagiarism, this involves submitting course material obtained from another person.
  • Multiple Submissions: You are prohibited from turning the same work in to two or more classes without express permission from both instructors.
  • Fabrication of Data: This means distorting or inventing material as part of your coursework, such as making up lab results or creating a fictional source for a paper.
  • Interfering with the Work of Others: Sabotaging the work of others definitely qualifies, but so too does any action that limits another student's access to education materials or impedes their ability to learn.
  • Bribes, Favors, and Threats: All of these are forbidden as methods of obtaining any academic advantage.
  • Other Academic Misconduct: This is a sort of catch-all for any form of misconduct not otherwise mentioned. It also allows for instructors to enact and enforce their own classroom policies as long as those policies are outlined in the course syllabus.

Ultimately, faculty at American University have the right to identify and punish violations of the Integrity Code within the context of their own classrooms. Sanctions can include

  • Verbal or written warning
  • Makeup work or re-submission of assignment
  • Additional assignment on the nature of academic integrity
  • Lowered grade on the assignment in question, up to a zero.
  • Lowered grade in the course up to an F

However, instructors can only issue grading penalties after receiving permission from the dean of the school housing the course.

In addition, instructors are required to report all incidents to the individual school's Academic Integrity Code (AIC) administrator, who can assign additional sanctions for repeat and egregious offenses, up to and including dismissal from AU.

You can, of course, challenge your instructors' decisions by asking the AIC administrator to conduct a review adjudication or by taking your case to the school's Academic Code Review Panel for a full hearing.

Academics: What Could Go Wrong?

You may be surprised at the idea that you could ever need an attorney to help you handle an academic issue. You're taking classes: What could go wrong?

The right attorney, though, someone with experience working directly with students, can help in many ways. Maybe your professor has decided that the car wreck you suffered on the way to school isn't enough of an excuse for missing class; maybe they're punishing you because you simply forgot to include a source in your works cited; maybe you just think your work deserves a better grade that it received.

An attorney can help you negotiate with faculty, draft appeals, and prepare for hearings. In many cases, they may be able to accompany you to proceedings and represent you or, at a minimum, offer advice. If you feel you're being treated unfairly, you have the right to seek a legal opinion, and you should always take advantage of that right.

Disciplinary Misconduct

Going back to school isn't just about academics. You also have to be able to fit into the university community, follow the rules, and to get along with classmates, professors, staff, and administrators. Like every college and university, American University maintains a disciplinary policy that dictates exactly how you should behave when you're on campus or connecting to campus via digital means. That policy lists 34 separate types of violation, everything from threatening behavior to gambling. Some of the most important rules you need to worry about are

  • Weapons Possession: AU is serious about this prohibition. Even objects that look like weapons or make sounds like weapons are banned from campus.
  • Underage Drinking: Drinking is against the law if you're under 21; providing alcohol to a minor is also illegal. As you might expect, then, both are forbidden at AU.
  • Drug Use or Possession: Drug use is barred as well, even marijuana usage.
  • Violations of Local, State, or Federal Laws: You can be punished by AU for breaking the law, even if what you did has no connection to the university at all. In essence, AU reserves the right to dismiss students who have been proven to have committed illegal acts.

Of course, many of AU's courses are offered through online platforms. The school expects you to follow the same set of rules in digital spaces that you would follow in a classroom or at any other place on campus. That means

  • Behaving professionally
  • Treating others respectfully
  • Avoiding profanity and socially offensive language
  • Dressing appropriately
  • Avoiding inappropriate surroundings

Finally, there is one particular sort of disciplinary misconduct that American University treats as its own special type of offense: sexual misconduct. The reason why is that sexual misconduct isn't just a matter of school policy. It's also a matter of federal law. Title IX mandates that colleges and universities follow a very specific set of guidelines for handling all allegations of sexually motivated offenses. If you've been accused of sexual misconduct, you're likely facing dismissal or, at a minimum, suspension. Navigating the federal rules and regulations is no easy task, and you should never try to take it on without a qualified, experienced attorney at your side.

Joseph D. Lento: Continuing Education Student Attorney-Advisor

If you've been out of school for even just a few years, you should prepare yourself: education has changed. Lots of classes happen online. Professors have become more paranoid about cheating and harsher in the penalties they assign. Schools are terrified of winding up on CNN, so they take even minor accusations of misconduct seriously and will dismiss you for almost any policy violation.

You've changed too. Sure, you care about passing your courses and getting your degree, but that's not the highest priority in your life anymore. You've got a partner, a mortgage, and kids to worry about. Satisfying your boss's demands is far more important than pleasing your professor. If your kid has a toothache, getting them to the dentist takes precedence over making it to the day's lecture.

Keep in mind: there are no Continuing Education faculty at American University. If you're a non-degree student, you'll be taking the same courses as every other student from the same faculty. Some faculty will understand the particular kinds of stresses you're under; others may not. If you should find that an instructor won't let you make up an exam you missed because you had jury duty or an administrator wants to dismiss you from your program because you got a DUI, know that you have options.

Joseph D. Lento specializes in helping students deal with school-based issues. He's represented hundreds of clients over the years. He knows the law as it applies to education, and he's practiced in dealing with faculty and administrators. Whatever problem you might be facing, from issues with technology to accusations of sexual misconduct, don't wait to see what will happen. If you're in trouble, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-555-3686, or use our automated online form.