Friday, January 04, 2008

The "Drop Date" For This Idea Is Today

Here's one more education-related rant, about a law which I wasn't even aware was in effect yet until I read this story:
A new state law that limits chronic class-dropping in college may sound good on paper, but some college officials and students worry that it might hurt students who need help the most.

Under the law, passed this spring, students at public campuses can drop no more than six classes during their undergraduate careers. The idea was to encourage students to stick with their courses and graduate faster and to keep them from hogging seats that could have gone to someone else.

College officials say they're all for timely graduation. But they don't want to see students penalized when they wind up in a class that's too hard or not what they expected.
I just can't see too much good coming out of this, and I bristle at the "keep them from hogging seats" phrase; we shouldn't be trying to just run people through college like cattle. And in my particular area--the two-year college--it's a whole different ballgame as well:
[S]ome community college leaders say that while the policy might work for a focused, full-time student at a flagship four-year university, students at two-year colleges often are in very different situations.

"If the purpose is to get them to have a two-year degree within two years, it's never going to happen, because 80 percent of our students work," said Dr. Cary Israel, chancellor of the Collin County Community College District.
And it's not like most students at four-year schools aren't also working, especially in recent years, when tuition at those schools have skyrocketed.

This law has had an effect on nearly everyone; college officials have to keep tabs on the number of dropped classes (as do the students themselves), which is a challenge when students transfer from campus to campus. And it's changed the way advisors work with students as well:
Advisors at the University of North Texas have often recommended that struggling students tough it out for a while because they can always drop the class.

"Now we don't want to advise students to drop classes if they're failing," said Rebecca Lothringer, UNT's associate director of admissions. "Now they need to go ahead and finish the course."

Another worry is that students who get low grades may get discouraged and consider dropping out altogether.
There is still a small window of opportunity to test the waters in a course without being penalized, but it's definitely small:
The law still permits some course shopping. That's where students try out several classes, dropping and adding them until a set date, usually the 12th day of the semester. Students can still drop classes for several weeks after that, but it shows up on their transcripts.

Now, students can still drop classes before the 12th day. But any dropped courses after that count toward the six-class limit. There are some exceptions – if students have an illness or death in the family, are drafted by the military or have an unavoidable change in work schedules, for instance. And the law applies only to students who started college in fall 2007 or later.
Still, I'm not seeing the good in this at all; the only people who appear to benefit from the law are the herd-'em-through advocates, and (as someone who teaches in an area where students often--for good reason--take extra time to finish their degrees) I happen to believe they're wrong about this one, as I've said a few previous times. As I noted earlier,
I think I'm particularly sensitive in this area because of the way musicians learn their craft. While most traditional academic degrees consist of four to six three-credit courses every semester, the bulk of music courses only earn one credit (despite sometimes meeting as often as four hours a week, in the case of many ensembles). The solution would certainly not lie in increasing the credit hours of those classes to match the "contact hours," because that would push most semesters into credit overload: an average schedule would balloon to 21+ hours, which would be cost-prohibitive for most students. But even under the current system, an 18-credit semester would probably consist of ten or eleven classes, as compared to the six taken by "regular" students whose classes are all worth three credits. Sometimes, that's just too much.

Besides, music (and this goes for most of the other arts, I'm sure) is something that isn't necessarily learned on a schedule. Getting the degree doesn't necessarily ensure that one's playing (or singing/acting/painting) is exactly where it needs to be; that extra semester could be the time when everything finally solidifies.
Perhaps the underlying reason that we get silly laws like this passed in the first place is best expressed by a local college official:
Lawmakers mean well, said Don Perry, an interim associate vice chancellor for the Dallas County Community College District. But despite those good intentions, he said, "they often really don't know enough about the business of higher education to understand what the unintended negative consequences might be."
How true.

UPDATE: Check this out from John Corrigan of Coppell (in Friday's letters to the editor in the DMN, which I didn't get around to reading until the next day):
I was stunned when I read the front-page story that said our Legislature has passed a law that limits the number of times an undergraduate can drop a course. Brilliant. Austin never ceases to disappoint and amaze me. However, when we send only mediocre people to Austin, we are going to continue getting only mediocre results.

Education is this state's most important product, and we should leave it to the professionals at each of the institutions to make policies like this.

Isn't it ironic that the author of this bill, Fred Brown, does not have a college degree?
Oh, that's just beautiful. Perhaps Brown should try getting a degree himself--in as short of a time as he's advocating for others--before he goes around creating legislation like this.

I have one more rant left this week, but it's not about education...or is it? Tune in tomorrow...

No comments: