New UNC drop/add policy criticized

UNC-Chapel Hill students will soon no longer be able to take comfort in knowing that they have eight weeks to drop a menacing course — and administrators aren’t happy about it.

A policy passed by the UNC Board of Governors in April establishes a systemwide drop period — shortening UNC-CH’s current drop period from eight weeks to ten days.

Any course dropped after the 10th day of the semester will appear as a withdrawal on students’ transcripts.

UNC-CH administrators are fighting back against the policy, saying that the change did not take into account the individual need of the campuses.

The new regulations will go into effect prior to the fall 2014 semester and will affect every student.

“This is a precipitous change on a campus where nobody seems to feel that anything is broken,” said Ron Strauss, executive vice provost and chief international officer.

The creators of the systemwide policy, the Academics First Workgroup, say it will make classrooms more efficient.

The group included 12 members from a variety of UNC-system schools — but it did not include a UNC-CH administrator.

“(After the 10 days) you’re going to be stuck with that class, and you either pass or you fail it, but you can’t drop it,” said Julie Poorman, director of financial aid at East Carolina University.

The policy also establishes a limit of four withdrawals that a student can accumulate over the course of his or her college career. Exceptions can be made for extenuating circumstances, such as illness or military service.

Poorman said the change is intended to foster student success and standardize policies across the 17 UNC-system campuses.

“There is a sense that students want to be able to take classes at several UNC campuses, so there needs to be similar drop periods,” said Poorman. “Really, it’s helpful to get everyone on the same page.”

The policy aims to graduate students in a timely manner and utilize classroom space more effectively.

“I think the goal is to make sure that campuses are paying close attention to many factors that could unnecessarily prolong the amount of time it takes a student to complete a degree,” said Joan Lorden, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at UNC-Charlotte and chairwoman of the Academics First Workgroup.

But UNC-CH administrators say the systemwide policy should not apply to all of UNC’s campuses.

Approximately 95 percent of seats filled at the end of the second week at UNC-CH remain filled until the end of the semester, said Bobbi Owen, senior associate dean for undergraduate education.

“(Having) empty seats is not a problem on this campus,” Strauss said. “Students want to get into classes, not get out of them.”

According to a report published by the UNC General Administration in February, UNC-CH has the highest six year graduation rate in the system at 90.9 percent for the most recent class analyzed, far exceeding the other universities, which range from 34.4 to 75.7 percent.

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” said Alston Gardner, vice chairman of the UNC-CH Board of Trustees.“To use a one-size-fits-all system is misguided.”

UNC-CH lengthened what was a six-week drop period to the eight-week drop period in 2004. In 2010, the University formally acknowledged the success of that change.

“Our experiences have been that having a relativity late drop/add has allowed students to take far reach courses,” Strauss said. “It’s been an opportunity to help our students stretch.”

Owen said a shorter drop period stifles the experimentation that UNC-CH encourages in its students. She said it promotes an environment of taking only required courses.

“We have excellent students at Carolina. They’re wonderful and enthusiastic. And sometimes they bite off more than they can chew. We want them to do that,” said Owen.

Strauss said 70 percent of UNC-CH students go on to graduate school within 10 years of graduation. To graduate school admissions officers, withdrawals on a transcript are a red flag that could affect admission.

“The reason (students) do well and go on to graduate school is that they take challenging courses,” said Faculty Chairwoman Jan Boxill. “(Withdrawals) on transcripts, especially if you’re going to graduate school, is an anomalous grade.”

UNC-CH officials say informing students is the first step in establishing the united voice and clear message to the UNC General Administration and Board of Governors.

“We do want to work with the General Administration but we also have to be on the same page,” said Boxill.

Gardner said at the Board of Trustees meeting earlier this month that the new policy did not make any sense.

Student Body President Christy Lambden also vowed to advocate against the changes at the board meeting.

Gardner said UNC-CH leaders were working to change the policy.

“Of all the things the General Administration could be doing, this is a total waste of time and counterproductive for our students,” he said.

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