Why college students choose to fail a course rather than withdraw

The state school chief acknowledges serious problems in getting test scores back to high schools, meaning kid are not getting final grades yet.

Rick Diguette is a local writer and college instructor. I value his contributions to the AJC Get Schooled blog because he is writing from the classroom so he can tell us how policy impacts students and outcomes.

This is a good piece for parents of college-age children. His point — that college students often blame their grades on unreasonable professors — rings true. I have been chatting with local kids back from college for spring break. Whenever they mention struggling in a course, their explanation typically is, “The professor is incredibly hard.”

By Rick Diguette

The all important semester midpoint at Georgia’s public colleges and universities came and went a few weeks ago. The date is important because it is the last day students can withdraw from a class and receive a W, which won’t affect their GPA. And yet every semester, year in and year out, many students let the midpoint go by even though they know, or should know, that they are unlikely to earn a passing grade in all of their classes.

At least two obvious reasons account for this. First, foreign students can lose their F-1 visa status if their undergraduate course load falls below 12 credit hours. In other words, they can forfeit their right to remain in the country. Rather than have that happen, they stay enrolled in at least 4 full-credit courses no matter what. The other obvious reason can be explained by the rules governing financial aid. In brief, students who withdraw from a class or classes will have to pay back a portion of their unused financial aid.

But there is at least one other reason why students stay in classes when it would make more sense for them to withdraw: parents and their purse strings. If mom and dad are footing the bill, many students would rather fail a class than withdraw. They apparently feel more confident explaining an F as the fault of a professor who made the class way more difficult than it needed to be.  And I suspect some parents, given the rather low opinion college and university professors seem to be held in these days, will be inclined to accept such an explanation.

Because I am a faculty member at one of Georgia’s public universities, I cannot be considered an impartial judge when it comes to professors and students. However, I am reasonably certain that most of us want our students to succeed and do what we can to make that happen as often as possible. I also invite students to meet with me before the semester midpoint if I’m concerned there’s a good chance they won’t be successful. Some take me up on the invitation, but many do not. There must be something about visiting a professor that reminds them of being called to the principal’s office.

For the parents of college students, I would like to suggest that unreasonable professors who make their classes more difficult than they need to be are few and far between. So if your sons and daughters would have you believe that Professor X, Y or Z is the reincarnation of Attila the Hun or Lizzy Borden, be circumspect. Ask to see some of the metaphorical wounds and then weigh the evidence accordingly.

For students whose moms and dads have generously agreed to support your desire to earn a college degree, be the person your dog thinks you are. If you slacked off for some reason, admit that you didn’t give every class your full attention. If you partied hearty more often than not, admit that you still need to work on your time management skills. And if you are not exactly sure college is right for you, at least be willing to sit down and talk about it.

As for the professors at Georgia’s public colleges and universities, harken back now and then to when you had barely left the dilemmas of adolescence behind. If you were anything like me the Siren song of newfound freedom played constantly in your ears, and “time’s wingèd chariot” was always idling down in the parking lot.

 

Reader Comments 1

37 comments
Kristján
Kristján

I don't know, but there probably various factors students gets F instead on W. One factor could be it could sometimes take more than 3 weeks to discover for student if she/he wants pursue this program or not. Sometimes that discovery doesn't come until 1-2 months into the program.  When the deadline to with drawn from the course has passed.  So they have no other choose but sit out the program. Whether or not they might end up passing the course is another story.  

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

Not sure why this comment would not publish for reader so I am publishing:


Struggles of college: The reason why they choose to get an F, rather then withdraw, is because they don’t plan on getting an F. I’m sure a lot of them also don’t check their grades until the semester is over with.

NewName
NewName

Unfortunately, with the push to raise the graduation rate from high school the standards continue to drop for students and they are continually rewarded with more time and multiple opportunities to complete assignments.


I teach a lot of kids who are not going to learn until they've been fired from a job or 2, or had to leave school that deadlines and assignments are an actual thing.


I would prefer (and used to have) higher standards for students, those are not supported by my current administration.


Theresa Pinilla
Theresa Pinilla

And not just parents of college students: 'For the parents of college students, I would like to suggest that unreasonable professors who make their classes more difficult than they need to be are few and far between. So if your sons and daughters would have you believe that Professor X, Y or Z is the reincarnation of Attila the Hun or Lizzy Borden, be circumspect. Ask to see some of the metaphorical wounds and then weigh the evidence accordingly.'

BioProf
BioProf

I am seeing this for the first time this semester, and was wondering what the heck is going on in students' minds.

redweather
redweather

@0.665222255417 What you are seeing is young people who have been failed by their mentors, i.e., their teachers, guidance counselors, and parents. 

Shawnta Ragland
Shawnta Ragland

If it's a requirement I don't have a choice but to continue the class

Keith Yancey
Keith Yancey

If you continue the class knowing that you are gonna fail it and do in fact fail it, you won't satisfy your requirement. In that case it's better to just get the W and not get the F on your transcript.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I retired 4-5 years ago, but remember this phenomenon. I always made a point of having more than half the graded assignments (tests, papers, quizzes) back before that W date so the students would know if they were failing, and sometimes warned them too. I also had a strict attendance policy, so that if the student had missed more than half the classes before the W date I withdrew the student, who sometimes was furious. Thank goodness campus carry wasn't then legal!


But still the F instead of the W. I think now that it was because of expectations from high school that they would never really get an F in a class. They also expected to take tests more than once and rewrite papers with bad grades, as in high school.  I saw these student changes begin about 8-10 years ago, when the high schools began changing standards too.


I'm sure I was called a hard professor because I didn't change. And, as I'm sure you've discovered, Professor Diguette, F's also produce quite low evaluation scores when the student hasn't withdrawn.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@gapeach101 @OriginalProf 

Because too often students didn't come to class, and a class with many students absent is problematic. In college, the class lectures/discussions provide information beyond the assigned materials, so those absent get behind. With too many absences, the class discussions are weak. The absences can also become contagious, with more and more cutting class. 

But such a policy has to be spelled out on the syllabus to work.



Matt Ponds
Matt Ponds

I did it to keep from repaying financial aid for the semester.

Keith Yancey
Keith Yancey

DON'T LISTEN TO MIKE WRIGHT THE ONLY MAN WHO WILL MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN IS THE ONE THE ONLY THE DONALD #TRUMP GET OUT THE VOTE LET'S BUILD THE WALL AND KICK THE MEXICANS AND WOMEN OUT #TRUMP2016

Gabriel Gonzalez
Gabriel Gonzalez

Example of how you can be smart and not intelligent at the same time. ^

Gabriel Gonzalez
Gabriel Gonzalez

OK then say that the first time. Don't tell me to think about it when I wasn't on thread on Friday... how am I supposed to know you had a trump pic ONLY on that day. Jeez.. Guess my first comment still stands. You can be smart and unintelligent.

Keith Yancey
Keith Yancey

Gabriel Gonzalez Look at the date that I posted this.

Gabriel Gonzalez
Gabriel Gonzalez

What does a date have to do with the content of the sentence? Is there a time limit on ignorance?

Keith Yancey
Keith Yancey

Gabriel Gonzalez Look at the date. I also had a Trump 2016 profile pic on only that date. Think about it man. You'll get it in a second...

Keith Yancey
Keith Yancey

Gabriel Gonzalez Really man? Here's a hint for you: I am not really a Trump supporter; I actually don't care for him or for what he stands for at all.

Gabriel Gonzalez
Gabriel Gonzalez

I figured that out AFTER you told me you put up a profile pic ONLY on that day. My point is why didn't you say that first instead of trying to be slick about it... nobody no knows your intentions, so if I see a comment like you with or without a trump pic, I'm going to assume it's real. Is that really hard to understand....

Kayce Ullman
Kayce Ullman

9/10 it is the student not willing to change their habits.

Richie Austin
Richie Austin

9/10 it is the student too hungover to simply take the time to go withdraw.

Courtney Droll
Courtney Droll

I agree with you! As an elementary teacher I see something similar. Students and parents more often than not blame the teacher for their poor grades rather than take responsibility. If parents are fostering that in elementary school it's not going to magically change in college.

Mailey McLaughlin
Mailey McLaughlin

Mike Wright, are you planning on cutting and pasting this crap on every AJC story until the election?

Mike Wright
Mike Wright

The issues do matter. Since the beginning of this election, Bernie has had the same campaign issues. Hillary's have changed, and grown closer to Bernie's each day. As she see's people flocking to him and his message, she then incorporates his message into hers, only to get votes. Google both of their early election speeches and watch the chameleon change. Bernie is the right choice.

jerryeads
jerryeads

Huh. Interesting, Rick. I hadn't seen it much before in my brief (5 years) tenure playing college perfesser, but in my last semester before I retire, I must have a half-dozen kids for whom I had no choice but to assign mid-term Fs - because they had turned in absolutely not one assignment. Didn't even do the take-home midterm exam. And yet they didn't drop, and they're still (sometimes) coming to class. All of them seem to be good people, some of them are great and fun participants and read EVERYthing assigned. I'd give my eye teeth to know how to help them, because I've sure failed up to this point.

redweather
redweather

@jerryeads Where I teach you can always tell when the midpoint of the semester has been reached by the parking lots. Loads of empty spaces that were not there during the first month of the semester.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Professor Diguette, It used to be(15-20 years ago) that students withdrew from a class at the drop of a hat, in order to keep HOPE.  This was a problem because so many were doing that; it caused wasted class space when many of the class withdrew, and increased time-to-degree completion.  Is that no longer so?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@redweather @Wascatlady Used to be, drops counted against your hours paid by HOPE, but it did not figure into your GPA of course.  So students would end up maxing out their hours paid for well before they graduated,even though dropping kept them "eligible" for HOPE by keeping their GPA up.


But it also resulted in some classes a third empty, when the space could have been used by prepared (or willing, or whatever) students who did not get in because there was no room.

BioProf
BioProf

@Wascatlady My institution now limits the number of W's a student may receive, perhaps for that reason.  Classes were filling up with students who didn't want to learn or work hard and expecting to withdraw, preventing the good students from registering.