Students share concerns on changing add/drop/withdrawal course policies

Credit: Aisha Han/Visual Editor Credit: Aisha Han/Visual Editor Credit: Aisha Han/Visual Editor Credit: Aisha Han/Visual Editor

On Jan. 24, Carnegie Mellon Student Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly organized a student forum to discuss the university’s current academic policies regarding overloading courses and its timeline for adding, dropping, and withdrawing from courses. Representatives from Academic Policies and Practices (APP) discussed students’ main concerns regarding the current academic practices, their general sentiments based on past surveys, the stress culture within the university, and changes proposed by the APP representatives of the Task Force, an organization launched last spring by Provost Farnam Jahanian, psychology professor Marlene Behrmann and Dean of Student Gina Casalegno to enhance the Carnegie Mellon experience.

Through the HealthU Survey conducted in 2013, APP representatives found that nearly half of the undergraduate students at Carnegie Mellon identified the quantity and difficulty of academic work to be the main causes of stress. The APP Work Group argued that the current overloading policy, which automatically lifts the maximum credit limit for students with a QPA higher than 3.0, was shown to have fostered a toxic culture that pressures students to take on more courses than they can handle.

At the student forum, Annette Jacobson, the associate dean of the College of Engineering, proposed that Carnegie Mellon should remove this policy. “More stringent policies are needed to retain [the credit limit],” Jacobson said. Her proposal stated that students must first consult their academic advisors in order to overload and advisors should also present students with comprehensive plans for future courses. Moreover, first-year undergraduate and graduate students would no longer be allowed to overload, with the exception of double-major students and students pursuing dual degree or 2-3 academic programs.

The overloading norm at Carnegie Mellon also leads to a higher course drop rate weeks into the semester. The current policy states that students have only two weeks to add courses, but ten weeks to drop a course and until the last day of classes to withdraw. This policy not only creates vacancies in the classroom, but also prevents interested students from taking certain courses. Moreover, the late drop and withdraw deadlines perpetuate students’ suffering in these courses, creating more stress and negatively influencing their performance in other courses.

In order to reduce stress and ensure an even distribution of opportunities, the APP Work Group proposed two new plans based on studying peer institutions such as Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania. Both plans involve moving the withdraw deadline from the end of the semester to 10 to 11 weeks into the semester which will allow students to concentrate on improving on other courses.

The Concurrent Model allows students up to two weeks to add or drop a course. By expediting the process of dropping courses, more opportunities can be made available to wait-listed students. However, some students argued that two weeks of time is not sufficient for students to make an informed decision about a course. This will result in more students resorting to withdrawing which will negatively impact their transcripts. The Separate Model moves the drop deadline to the fifth week. It allows more time for students to consider dropping a course, but still creates vacancy in the classrooms.

Both models benefit students in courses that require more teamwork. This is because many projects suffer from the loss of group members towards the end of the semesters, and the remaining members become more stressed due to the leftover work of the missing members. Carnegie Mellon will work on changing the stigma of receiving a “W” on the transcript by communicating with employers.

However, many students argue that the current policy is the least stressful. Since students often don’t receive indicative feedback on their grades in the first few weeks, having a drop deadline earlier than mid semester would only conduct more stress later on when they could no longer drop the course without facing consequences. Some argued that if professors are not limited by policies and have the freedom to add enthusiastic students to their courses, opportunities can be evenly distributed. During the feedback section of the forum, some students suggested that Carnegie Mellon should apply its conversion to pass/fail model at a larger scale which would allow students who passed the course to satisfy the requirement but receive no credit.

Another forum dealing with the same issue was held for faculty members on Jan. 25. The policies in the proposal are not final, and APP will continue to debate between these options.