Drop deadline pushed earlier with the goal of improving student experience

It has been just over a month since the semester began, but the initial surge of excitement around campus has already settled itself into a more focused rhythm. As assignments are returned and the first round of midterms sweep through classrooms, students are getting a more accurate picture of their course load, and many are faced with a familiar question: should they drop a course?

Maddie Mianzo, a sophomore studying Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), is one such student who says she’s falling behind in one course. “I feel like I don’t have enough time to focus on this class with my current workload,” she says, echoing a feeling nearly every student has at least once during their time here. Though the unit system gives a vague idea of how many weekly hours a certain course will occupy, there is currently no way for students to know how busy they’ll be until a few weeks into the semester, once courses and extracurriculars are in full swing. The course drop policy acts as a contingency for the many students who put too much on their plate at the start of the semester, allowing them to drop a course without receiving a “withdrawal” grade.

This fall marks the implementation of a new add/drop deadline, a somewhat controversial action by the Task Force on the CMU Experience. While the Fall 2018 course add deadline remains the same as in previous years (the 10th day of class), students have much less time to drop a course: 31 class days now as opposed to 51 last year. On the calendar, the deadline was Nov. 6 during the fall of 2017; now it is Oct. 8.

This change, along with tighter restrictions on course overloading, was proposed by the Academic Policies and Practices initiative group, one of six such groups on the Task Force. In its Year 2 Progress Report, the Task Force cited student well-being as its motivation: “The proposed changes to policy and practice have the potential to improve not only the academic performance and overall well‐being of our students, but also the campus culture as a whole: to remove the perception that to succeed means you must overload. The overload restrictions and earlier add/drop deadlines are also likely to improve course access and diminish waitlist uncertainties.”

Earlier in the report, the group concluded that our previous extended timeline was a significant contributor to the “culture of excessively high workloads at [CMU].” The idea is simple: force students to drop a course earlier and save them a month of increased stress due to excessive workloads.

The original plan was met with strong resistance by students because it proposed the drop deadline be moved to the same day as the add deadline: Sept. 11. This two-week period, students argued, was far too short. In Jan. 2017, The Tartan published an editorial lambasting the shorter timeline, asserting that the add/drop policy “limits students’ flexibility and paternalistically suggests that students cannot make good decisions about when to leave a course.”

These sentiments were echoed nearly a year later by members of the Student Senate and the Student Body President’s cabinet, who successfully lobbied for a four-week extension of the drop deadline. Their efforts last spring led to the current Oct. 8 cutoff.

The challenge now, it seems, is awareness. There have been no official communications from the university regarding the new deadline, and some students are only discovering it after investigation. Mianzo, who reached out to her academic advisor when she realized her schedule was too much, was glad she didn’t procrastinate. “I didn’t know about the drop deadline changing, so I was surprised when I realized how soon it is,” she said, admitting that her decision felt a bit rushed.

Students on the fence about dropping courses will have to make their decisions this week. While the effects of this new policy on student mental health have yet to be seen, Mianzo is confident about her decision: “I still had enough time to make the right decision for me.”