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.

I like the approach, and appreciate the risk they're taking. However, I wonder if this is not just de facto increasing selectivity. Are students who register late more likely to fail *because* they register late, or is it simply an indicator for students who are organizationally unprepared or overburdened by their work schedules? I suppose the "late start" classes will be the real test!
I'd be wary of attributing all of the fall off to this policy, since enrollments have dropped at many colleges this year.

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.
Amazing. I have never seen an admin admit that late registrants are more likely to fail.

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.

Where I used to teach (before I semi-retired), out late enrollment period extended to the end of the first week of classes (during which students could add courses without the approval of the instructor) and through the end of the second week with the approval of the instructor. I had a policy of not allowing late enrollments, because of the disadvantage at which those students would find themselves.

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).
We recently changed our drop/add window and for the better. You now must register for an online class 4 days before it starts and a hybrid class the day before. I would push it out even further if asked.

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.
My experience as an adjunct for a decade is that the late enrollees (one week before class starts to one week after) is that some of them enroll in classes because they couldn't find a job, so they go to college until they do. In other words, enrolling in classes is Plan B to Plan A, getting a full time job.

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.
This line of argument confuses correlation with causation. Yes, students who register late tend to do worse nationally. That doesn't mean that students do worse *because* they registered late.

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.
I guess it depends on what the intended goal is. If it is to improve the school's overall student persistence and/or success (pass rates or graduation rates), and if the evidence solidly shows that late registrants typically do poorly or don't persist, then it doesn't really matter if late registration is a cause or merely a correlate. Limiting late registration reduces the pool of people who are most likely to do poorly and/or not persist.

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.

Thanks for sharing as it is an excellent post would love to read your future post
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