Temple administration officials have targeted incomplete grades, class withdrawals and repeated classes in a proposal that could change the University’s grade and grade point average policies.
“The average debt undergraduates are leaving college with is $16,000,” said Stephen Zelnick, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies. “At Temple that number is $28,000. This tells us it’s taking students too long to graduate because of retaking courses, withdrawals and taking incompletes.”
|These are the top 10 courses in which students received incompletes and the top 10 courses from which students withdrew in 2001.
Stephen Zelnick, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies
To bring down student debt the Educational Programs and Policies Committee of the faculty senate has made recommendations that would fill in this gap and help students realize what they can face by choosing the wrong curriculum.
If passed, these recommendations would:
“The idea is to make students think harder about whether they’re in the right place and in the right curricula,” Zelnick said.
Each semester there are 4,000 withdrawals at Temple. Zelnick said Temple is at fault for inviting students to make wrong choices by having them pay for full-time tuition. Students take that fifth class on the speculation, he said, that all they have to do is drop it if they’re not doing well.
“This is a sensible strategy,” he said, “but it delays graduation. Temple has a four-year graduation rate of 18 percent. The policy is meant to say to students finish what you started, make progress, graduate early and don’t accumulate debt. We want them to be sensible about their academic choices.”
The committee has proposed the 12 weeks students have to withdraw from classes be cut to nine and the unlimited number of undergraduate withdrawals be limited to five.
“This is for the benefit of the student who wants to go on to grad school,” said Jacqueline Resavage, the University’s Registrar. “Consistent withdrawals look bad on transcripts.”
To receive an incomplete there must be something exceptional that has happened to prevent the student from finishing the course, said Resavage.
Incomplete grade status requires students to make a contract with the instructor and clear the incomplete by finishing the work within one year of the course’s completion date. The contract should entail how the work will be completed and the grade issued, she said.
But a lot of the students with incompletes are not following that route, Resavage said.
Each academic year the University has 2,000 incompletes filed that go unresolved. Resavage says the numbers are so large because many professors aren’t using the contract.
But Zelnick said incompletes are also from students who don’t feel like doing the needed work to complete the course.
“We have students taking them all over the place and not finishing them,” he said. “What happens at the end of the year when the instructor doesn’t turn in a grade? The answer is nothing. Which is incorrect, something should happen.”
To put an end to these large numbers, the committee originally proposed to automatically change the incomplete to a grade of “F,” Zelnick said. But the committee did not want to take away the faculty’s right to determine what the final grade was, so they recommended notifying the faculty member of the incomplete through the Registrar’s office.
So far it hasn’t worked, Zelnick said. The faculty member receives the notification and does nothing because a contract was not made.
With no sanctions against professors and students for having expired incompletes, Resavage said officials plan to remodel the undergraduate policy to mirror the graduate school.
At the graduate level, she said, incompletes not changed to a final grade are treated as a withdrawal and the student has to retake the class to get credit.
Incompletes can be serious trouble come graduation time, Resavage said. Students should clear up any incomplete grades before applying for graduation because an incomplete can be changed at any time. Even after you graduate it can be changed to an “F” on your transcript, she said.
“Students who are retaking classes to make their GPA look good for medical school are barking up the wrong tree,” Zelnick said. “This is a strategy in error. They’re paying for it in time and money and it’s not getting them where they think they need to go.”
Temple’s policies on retaking courses was changed in the early 1970s to throw out the lowest grade and include all other grades for the course when computing the student’s GPA. In fall 1993 Temple reversed their policy and only counted the best grade for the course.
Temple officials are now proposing a reversal of their initial reversal.
“We have students retaking courses five, six, seven times, sometimes to pass, sometimes to get a better grade,” Zelnick said. “Bad grades sit on the transcript, but aren’t calculated as far as Temple calculates the GPA, but many graduate, law and medical schools will take those retaken classes and recalculate the GPA.”
The recommendations will head to the faculty senate Steering committee at their May meeting and if passed they will move to the floor for a vote.
If the proposal passes, it will not go into effect until it is placed in the undergraduate bulletin for Fall 2003.
Chris Powell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org