Students will no longer have the cushion of penalty-free Ws beginning next fall when the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will begin charging for dropped classes.
“We want the students to do better, be successful, and graduate in a timely fashion,” said Bette Harris, director of the Junior Division’s Academic Success Center. “One way we know we can do that is we can try to get the students to drop fewer courses.”
The new policy will allow only one free drop per 30 hours taken before charging $50 per additional dropped class, and it will hit those resigning from the university with a $150 fee. Freshmen students are allowed an extra drop, as Harris said it’s considered more of a “transition year,” and those resigning when called to military duty will be the only students eligible for exemption.
“For many years, we’ve been trying to improve students’ academic success and their graduation rate so that they can graduate in four to five years,” said Harris. “Our statistics show that if students graduate in four years, they only had two drops. If they graduate in five years, they only had four drops. If they graduate in six years, they had eight drops. So there’s a direct correlation to graduation and dropping classes.”
Since the 2001-2002 school year, the amount of dropped classes accumulated over the fall and spring semesters has reduced by more than 56 percent, from 9,587 ten years ago to 4,152 in the 2009-2010 school year. Harris attributes this decrease to eliminating the open admissions policy and gradually heightening entry requirements for incoming students. The university has also in recent years decreased the amount of time allotted for students to drop classes.
“We gave you less time to drop,” Harris said, noting that the deadline to drop classes has reduced from about 70 percent into the semester to only halfway. “Years ago, students used to take a lot of classes and were always dropping them, and what they’re doing is they’re halfway trying at these courses, knowing they’re going to drop down to the easiest four or the ones they have the best grade in. That’s what we’re trying to get away from, because that’s exactly the students that are around for forever.”
In October, the Louisiana Postsecondary Education Review Commission recommended that all public universities increase graduation rates by 2018, setting midlevel schools like UL Lafayette and the University of New Orleans to get their six-year graduation numbers up to 60 percent. With UL Lafayette’s current six-year graduation rate at 42 percent, and with five- and four-year graduates ranking only around the 30th percentile, the pressure is on.
Although the same type of policy is nothing new to universities and is in effect at higher-performing schools like LSU, student feedback on the change is mixed.
“If UL is to become a more prestigious and well-respected university, it must have these programs in place to attract and maintain a higher standard of student,” said Robert Vied, 23, a graduating senior in the college of general studies who admits to over-utilizing the penalty-free drop policy in years past. “Most students are guilty of dropping classes for reasons as simple as not liking the class or ‘I wasn’t doing well.’ With no penalty or no fee it creates a lazy student that is able to schedule too many hours with the intent of dropping a class when the work load is too heavy.”
Other students disagree, saying that it should not be at the university’s discretion to charge students even more money to discontinue a class for which they’ve already paid more than $400.
“A monetary incentive may lower the drop rate, but at the same time students don’t have a lot of income,” said junior finance major Tiffany Berniard, 21. “If they have to start paying to drop classes, I would imagine many students will just end up failing the class, just to take it the next semester. If this happens, GPAs will only start sinking and the graduation rate really won’t improve at all.”
Regardless, Harris contends the university’s mission remains in its students’ best interests.
“Our goal is to get you to graduate,” she said.