Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On Dropping A Class

It's the time of the semester when what I call the "drop-dead" date approaches: after this point, any student on the roster must receive a letter grade at the end of term, no withdrawals allowed ("W" on the transcript). And every semester I get the same stories: "I can't drop the class, and I can't fail."

Sorry, padawan. You are incorrect on both counts.

I'll deal with the second part first. I don't deliberately try to rope in students with promises of miraculous passing grades at the end. If a student is struggling, I try to send very clear signals that All Is Not Well. I notify the counselors and suggest tutoring. I gently try to hint that if they don't improve after two exams, it's unlikely they will magically begin acing things in the second half of the term. And I am always, ALWAYS honest when a student asks me for my opinion on progress or lack thereof. Yet every term I get the ones who suddenly realize they may have to repeat and mirabile dictu it's MY problem as well as theirs. Huh??? You had AMPLE warning that this was coming! What makes you any more special than the thousands of other students in the system, that you "cannot" fail a course?! Oh wait, you can't afford to fail the course because it would hurt your average. And this is my problem how, exactly? Most everyone else is in the exact same spot, and they're getting the work done. Not to be overly cruel, but a mistake on your part (not studying, not taking class seriously, blowing off assignments) in no way constitutes an emergency on my part. If it's that hopeless, and you can't afford to take an F, drop the course.

"I can't drop the course, it will affect my financial aid!" Ahhhhhh!!!! Now we get to the heart of the matter! It is a twisted and bizarre circumstance, but many students believe that it is more important to get aid money than to actually pass their courses. No, really! There is a tiny grain of truth in here: some students' aid packages are tied to how many courses they complete, regardless of grade. For international students, their visas depend on competing hours, and dropping a class guarantees that the hours won't happen.

Let's clear some of this up right now. Many students ignore the long-term effects of bad grades. Look, an F is the same as a W: you will end up repeating the course for credit and spending more money. The W doesn't affect your GPA, and since you are planning on transferring the credit at some point, and since the institution to which you will be going will be looking at your GPA first and the number of W's you've earned second, you need to focus on what's going to hurt you the least. And let's not forget that if your aid is dependent on grades, you're in deep doo-doo anyway and, again, should do the thing that hurts you least.

But that's the catch, innit: many students are actually in it only for the m-o-n-e-y. We see it every term: students getting big checks and then dropping all but one or two of their courses, spending the rest on phones and what-all-else. And the sick sad thing is that they don't realize that most of the aid money isn't really "aid" --it's a LOAN! Meaning, you will have to repay it! And that means having a decent job sooner rather than later, which means getting to a four-year school ASAP to finish your degree, which means NOT screwing up your GPA with an F if you don't have to!!!

And again, your situation has no effect on my response. We have thousands --tens of thousands!- of students in our system, and it is in no way fair, justified or acceptable for me to treat you any differently simply because of your situation. This Is Real Life. There are consequences to decisions. Your whining cheapens the efforts of the vast majority of students who work hard, sometimes fail, but always try their damndest WITHOUT asking for anything beyond the chance to show what they know. I have students who don't get aid, who are paying for school entirely on their own dime, and they have been known to struggle just much as anyone having to borrow money. I should insult them by giving passing grades to you? I think not.

If it really is hopeless, you can do something about it. But don't whine to me about "can't." Bottom line: you can fail, and you can drop before it's too late.

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