Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Taking the Plunge
I like this story a lot, even though it’s a little pessimistic.
Apparently, Klamath Community College, in Oregon, has decided to make a series of changes to improve student success rates. Some of the changes are relatively straightforward, such as requiring academic advising and new student orientation. But it has gone farther than that, and eliminated late registration.
Predictably, eliminating late registration came with a short-term cost. The college has lost about $400,000 in tuition revenue this year, in a climate in which every dollar counts. There’s no easy way around that. Ripping off the band-aid will hurt.
The college is gambling that it will eventually make up most or all of that through improved retention and graduation rates, and possibly through improved state funding that’s contingent on performance. To the extent that the change will increase performance, Klamath stands to gain.
I like the story a lot because it represents an attempt to verify empirically what many of us suspect theoretically. And unlike some student success initiatives that are either unethical or fiscally unsustainable, this one may be sustainable over the long term after the sting of the first year wears off.
It makes sense, intuitively, that students who sign up at the last possible moment are putting themselves at an academic disadvantage. Depending on how late “late” is, they may have already missed a week of classes. Textbooks sometimes sell out, so a student who arrives late may not have access for a little while. Financial aid and transportation arrangements sometimes take a little while to gel; if the student is already behind academically, it may be difficult to apply the necessary focus while so many balls are in the air.
The intuition seems empirically correct. Nationally, the literature suggests that the last in are the most likely to drop out. (My own college has run its own numbers, and found the same thing.) Yes, there’s a short-term fiscal temptation to take the late arrival’s money, but the odds of a good outcome aren’t nearly what they should be. And from a pedagogical standpoint, faculty are much more likely to do their best work when every student is present from day one, books in hand, finances arranged, and able to focus. That won’t solve everything, but it helps. Better to have the entire semester to work with the student than to have to get the weakest students show up already behind.
Ideally, a “no late registration” policy should be paired with an option for “late start” or “part of term” courses, so that a student who shows up, say, September 7th won’t have to wait until January. If that student is instead allowed to register for classes that start, say, October 1, then she’s less likely to vanish. And if she isn’t hustled into classes that have already started and for which she doesn’t have books, she’s less likely to fail.
Ideas this good often backfire, due to perverse incentives baked into various funding systems. I hope that fate doesn’t befall Klamath. The idea is too good to sacrifice to some idiotic technicality. Kudos to Klamath for taking the plunge.
We definitely don't allow much late registration for classes, but even students who add during the few day window we allow appear at risk. "Yes, we understand that you didn't realize you failed all of your classes at Cool University until 3 months after grades were posted, but those are our rules."
We go further, in that we don't create last-minute sections filled with people who show up to register a few days before classes start. They now fit in where they can and get the rest with "late start" classes.
I have no idea what our statistics say about the late-start sections.
Our late registration period was extended during the tenure of a certain adminitrator.
Registrants continued to arrive to the point where there was shortage of students desks. I believe also that large classes sizes affect the success rate of developmental students.
I did tho, put my foot down when a student joined Algebra at the 5th week of classes only 2 lecture hours away from the mid-term exam.
I was told to "help" the student. I did-- I gave her a signed drop form.
I will add that some of the individual course late enrollments were actually students who were dropping one section of a course and adding another section of the same course (to get into a section taught my someone perceived to be a better or easier teacher).
If you don't have your books and haven't started reading, then you will be behind. Add in at least another 24 hours to get into the online portion of the class. Unless you are a stellar student you will be behind the curve.
The students who register late are typically the first to drop or do very poorly.
I know some may finish the semester and some may not. Maybe after a few weeks of class, college will be Plan A for them. I can hope.
We know that there are some lurking variables there: familiarity with the college system, poverty, "on-the-ball"ness. And first quarter students are more likely to drop/quit/fail than second quarter students, because of the simple fact that the second quarter students are the type to stick around for a quarter.
As a teacher, late registrants drive me nuts. But I'm not convinced it'll help students do better.
It's unfortunate that we probably won't ever get a definitive answer. Decoupling the effects of the various initiatives that these colleges are undertaking is difficult. This idea, like so many in the past, will probably be fashionable for a while. Then it'll fade as people forget about it.
On the other hand, if the goal is to try to figure out how to help those students overcome structural or personal challenges in their lives and be successful college students, then yes, it matters a great deal to understand causation.
In the classroom, we tend to focus on the latter at the individual level, but as an institution the focus may be primarily on the former at an aggregate level. And I'm not completely sure that's bad.
register your tuition class online