Hesitant about whether you’ve found the right classes this semester? Concerned that you still haven’t had an assignment in that 400-level class you decided to try? Well, you had better decide quickly if your schedule is right because today is the drop/add deadline. Scheduled three weeks into the semester, this deadline is far too early. The University has a responsibility to help its students succeed in their classes, and in this case, it needs to help them by pushing this deadline back until fall break to give students more time to make a choice about their course load.
For everyone but first-semester freshmen, the drop/add deadline will cause an ominous “W” to appear on students’ transcripts if they drop classes after today. Although the University claims that a “W” isn’t a mark of poor performance, students know that these are scarlet letters on their transcripts, especially if they are applying to graduate school. Regardless of their reasons for dropping classes, students know they have to explain these marks away.
But it shouldn’t be that way. Students need time to shop around for classes, determine whether the professors teaching their courses have styles conducive to their learning and decide how heavy a course load they can handle. And they need more than three weeks to make these decisions, especially when you consider that many classes haven’t even had a graded assignment, let alone an exam for students to truly grasp whether they can handle a class’s workload. The University has recognized these concerns. That’s why it changed the deadline for first-semester freshmen.
Other universities like Yale and Harvard, have addressed this concern with a “shopping period.” This is a period at the beginning of the semester when students can experiment with many classes and decide which are right for them. Even this system, though, doesn’t let students gauge how much work they will be doing.
Fortunately, the University of Michigan has a system getting closer to making sense. Unfortunately, it’s at the University’s Flint campus. There, students can add classes until Sept. 10, but can drop them without punishment up until Oct. 24. By this time, students have most likely had an assignment graded or taken an exam to measure how well they are doing.
The University is obviously fearful of a system that allows students to look for easy classes and easy grades. However, switching to a system that separates adding classes from dropping them would keep students from dropping hard courses only to switch into easier ones. Making the drop deadline closer to fall study break would better allow students to judge the time and effort needed for each class and whether or not they have the time and ability to succeed in their classes.
In the meantime, while the University continues this policy, it is up to the professors to give the students a better measure of how they are doing. Giving clear and precise expectations is helpful, but students can’t always get a handle on a subject’s intensity simply by reading the syllabus. Professors should provide students with feedback early on to give them a better benchmark about whether or not they should continue the course.
The University has an obligation to put its students in the best position to succeed in their classes. It’s about time the University take a page from its Flint campus and switch to a system that works for students, not against them.