I have been considering returning to university to continue my education and further my knowledge. I have a strong interest in finance, but before I dive in to a second degree/diploma at this stage in life, I want to take one or two courses to see if I can get back in to real coursework.

Having been out of university for many years, my initial thought was to take one or more courses through continuing education as a place to start. I remembered that you can audit courses (typically at half the cost of registering in a course directly). I was reading through the Audit Regulations and I was surprised to see that participation in classroom discussion is not allowed.

The auditing student shall not participate in class discussions, assignments, examinations or in laboratory or like parts of the course.

I understand that that as you are not registered in the course, you would not be able to participate in exams for credit and/or receive graded assignment etc... however the inability to participate in class discussion was a little disappointing.

Based on the Business classes I took while in university, the classroom discussions are the core of most courses. What is the rationale for not allowing auditing students to participate in class discussions?

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    Weird, I personally have the opposite policy... I only allow auditors if they agree to participate fully in the class, submit assignments, etc.
    – ff524
    Jun 23, 2015 at 2:01
  • Firstly the proper spelling is "rationale" not "rational." At the universities I've attended, professors usually have been very accommodating towards auditors. Many times, the auditing students had to submit assignments (though exams were optional since it is extra stress). I get the feeling that this might be a bit of a special case. I don't get the rationale behind it, honestly. You're robbing a student of one of the best parts of the classroom setting. Professors often bend university rules.. I would ask those professors you wish to take courses from if they object to you participating. Jun 23, 2015 at 2:03
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    @Cameron, thank you for the correction. Further research suggests this policy may just be a University of Calgary policy. Other universities such as UofBC and UofM do not have similar documented restrictions. That being said, any thoughts on why they would list such a restriction? Jun 23, 2015 at 2:11
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    @ChrisBaxter It could be some sort of "fairness" policy. Universities can often go a little bit overboard with such things. Auditing students don't pay the full price of a course and presumably don't need the course for their degree plan. To keep them from taking the full experience away from full-paying students, I can see them instituting this policy to keep students from taking advantage of the auditing privilege. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me though. If it is indeed a problem, perhaps it might be better to register as a post-bacc student. Jun 23, 2015 at 2:16
  • @CameronWilliams that auditing students don't pay the full price is also a university-specific thing. At every institution I've been at, audits are billed exactly like regular courses, presuming you do an official audit that goes on your record (as opposed to the officially discouraged unofficial audits where you just ask the prof if you can sit in and doesn't go on record anywhere). Jun 23, 2015 at 4:47

2 Answers 2


Note: This answer is mainly for institutions where auditors only pay a nominal fee.

From the institution's perspective, auditors are freeloaders. The nominal payment (if they pay anything at all) is trivial compared to the tuition income from paying students. They would like to make their internal cost of hosting auditors as low as possible.

If auditors were (as part of university policy) required to hand in assignments or participate in discussion, then professors could argue that they need more resources.

For example, if a professor gets an additional teaching assistant (TA) for each additional 20 students, and there was a class with 155 paying and 10 auditors, they could put in a request for 9 TAs rather than 8. The department class enrollment would also increase by 10 which might mean more resources to the department, depending on the university allocation policy.

So the usual university policy is that auditors are ghosts or non-persons -- they do not count for teaching enrollments or resources. In order to argue this, the administration has to make clear that auditors receive no services.

That being said, many faculty such as ff524 and myself do not like "dead bodies" in the classroom and require our auditors to do the coursework and participate in discussion. This is our own prerogative and because we are going against university policy, we could not then turn around and ask for more TAs or claim hardship. We do this in the spirit of providing the best classroom experience for all.

From the perspective of paying students, auditors who are participating in the class also seem like freeloaders and can create resentment. This is usually ameliorated by the restriction that auditors do not receive transcripts or grades for their participation in courses. That said, the other business students are keenly aware that "discussion" is the core benefit of the classes and may resent your over-active participation. You'll need to work it out with the faculty member (and perhaps your peers in the class) if you want an exception to the policy.

  • I would hope someone paying to audit a course (granted at 50% of regular fee) without possibility of course credit would not be considered a freeloader. A student who chooses to audit a course would be there to learn the material and expand their knowledge. That being said, thank you for the insight; definitely sounds like the best course of action would be to speak to the specific professor(s) directly. Jun 23, 2015 at 2:28
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    Even if you're paying 50%, you're paying a'la carte for a single course. The degree students who are paying full fare for multiple years are the real customers that must be kept happy in this equation, from the university's perspective.
    – RoboKaren
    Jun 23, 2015 at 2:30
  • Thank you again for the insight; although I personally find that hard to understand. As an additional note, in this case you are correct that I would be initially taking the courses a'la carte, the same rule would still apply if I was a full-time student auditing an extra course for similar reasons. Jun 23, 2015 at 2:36
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    At many universities (including mine), auditors pay full tuition. At some universities (including mine), auditors actually receive a "grade" of "successful audit" or "unsuccessful audit", and the instructor has the option of requiring students to participate in class to recevie a grade of "successful audit." I think audit policies vary a lot between institutions. Jun 23, 2015 at 3:28
  • thanks, I clarified my answer Brian. You may want to write your own from the perspective of an institution that charges full price.
    – RoboKaren
    Jun 23, 2015 at 4:37

Just to give the alternate perspective from institutions that charge the same amount for auditing...

When I have students that audit my class, they get a grade on their transcript if they show up for x% of classes. If they don't, it doesn't show up at all. Alternatively, there may be two designators, one for having shown up and one for not; one grade regardless of attendance; or there may be no record provided, transcript or otherwise.

I'm expected to treat my audit students exactly the same as any other student: I grade their work, they have access to the online portions of the course, and they participate in class and group work as any other student. In practice, some of them have skipped exams because ultimately it doesn't really matter for them.

And it's this "it doesn't really matter for them" bit that has a (low) potential for causing problems. If you have a class with lots of group-based work, and one student has no repercussions for not doing their work, you're setting the stage for possible trouble. Likewise, students who audit (in my own experience, YMMV) tend to be the ones most interested in the material and ask a lot more questions. Unfortunately, their questions sometimes aren't necessarily the same ones that a student who is going to be assessed on the material would be asking. Entertaining too many of their questions may potentially hurt the learning experience of other students.

I use wiggle words in the above because it's all very much in the hypothetical as (a) every instutition I've been at charges full tuition for auditing and doesn't forbid participation and (b) good classroom management could easily work around anything that might pop up anyways.

  • At my institution, community members and alumni can audit classes for free. Normally, having 40-50 year olds in the classroom can be a good experience for all, but not always so I screen them carefully. Allowing them in is at my discretion.
    – RoboKaren
    Jun 23, 2015 at 6:43
  • @RoboKaren yeah, we have a similar set up, but they can also opt to take the classes for credit for free. They are absolute last in line for registering. My department's courses fill up very quickly (yay hiring freezes), so I've not actually ever had such a student, credit or audit. But it's a good point, they are out there. Jun 23, 2015 at 6:48

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