Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Happens Every Semester at This Time

Without fail the wave of complaints comes in right about the same time as the last-chance withdrawal deadline. There is under an hour left in which a student can bring a signed form to the registrar's office and get out of a class with minimal damage to their academic record. I can only imagine that withdrawals of all sorts are popular among our freshmen, as a recent flyer that came to our mailboxes reports that this year we have 3717 "first time" freshmen and 1406 "other" freshmen. Some of these "other" freshmen are transfer-freshmen (transfer students without 30 hours that transfer in), but the rest of them are what I like to call "returning freshmen." I don't really believe the numbers in the flyer, as they report that we only have 369 "fifth year" students while there is a tremendous gulf between our four-year graduation rate (thirty-something percent) and our five-year graduation rate (fifty-something percent). By my reckoning you'd need at least 700 fifth year students to make the numbers work. I suspect that the flyer's definition of "fifth year" means "has acquired more than 120 credit hours" and not "has been enrolled for five years."

So, in any event, the freshmen.

Just like "exam right before spring break," the last-chance withdrawal deadline needs its own BINGO card, as the events that it triggers are pretty common. Definitely "student comes to complain about foreign TA's English skills" needs to be on this card. Every semester this complaint comes in. Every semester we hear it the week in which the last-chance withdrawal deadline happens.

Today I also fielded a phone call from a parent. I'm not really sure what the parent wanted. I suspect that the parent just wanted to be reassured that they were doing the right thing in terms of the advice that the parent was giving to the student. I also suspect that the parent had some misgivings about not micro-managing the student. The thing about math is that once you hit the last-chance withdrawal deadline there is not much that you can do to turn things around. In classes that grade based just on letter grades, an A and an F often average together to give you a C. In math, our Fs go so low that an A and an F can average together to still give you an F. Your average can be so low that even if you get a 100% on the final, it is still impossible to pass the class. We reach the point of mathematical impossibilities right around the last-chance drop deadline. From here on out, your grade is only likely to go down.

And my student who claimed that she was going to come to my office and ask for my autograph so that she could also take advantage of the last-chance drop still is not here. Now only 15 minutes remain in which a student can collect a signature, bring it to the registrar's office, and escape a brush with failure.