Tuesday, February 13, 2007


An extraordinarily wise and handsome reader (okay, my Dad) writes:

At Northern Town State the rule was that if you repeat a course for whatever
reason, the *last grade *is the one that counts. So, if you wanted to
repeat a course for a higher GPA, you should make certain that the grade
was higher.

There was one instance that I remember when a graduating senior was
repeating a course and failed it. He not only failed the course but did
not graduate due to losing credits which he had previously earned with
the "D"

We also allowed departments to determine how many times a student in their

major could repeat a failed course.

Your thinking?

Do-overs are a tough call.

I've seen different variations on it. At Proprietary U, if I remember correctly, each attempt was averaged with the previous ones. An F plus a C equaled a D. So it was only worthwhile to repeat if you thought you could jump two letter grades.

At my cc, the second grade replaces the first, but any subsequent grades would be averaged in with previous ones from the second on. So if a kid took a class four times and got grades of F,D,C, and B, the final grade would be a C, as the average of D,C, and B. (There's no rule blocking do-overs if the grade was passing. Theoretically, a kid who got a B could take a shot an an A, though I don't recall that ever happening.)

I've never heard of different majors having different requirements on do-overs, though it may make sense for overcrowded programs. I'd argue that given a scarcity of seats, the kid trying for the fourth time has a lesser claim on a seat than a new student.

The academic purist in me objects to do-overs on general principle. Assuming the lack of some really egregious external factor (extended hospitalization, etc.), I want to say, what you get is what you get. A kid who aced a course the first time through has accomplished something more impressive than a kid who aced it the third time through. A kid who had to take everything three or four times before passing may eventually wind up with a degree, but I'm not sure just what – other than tenacity – the degree signifies.

But I can't really be that pure. One of the basic reasons for cc's to exist is to provide second chances. Some kids coast through high school and don't really find their academic groove until college. We're here for them. Some folks object to that on the grounds of 'moral hazard,' opining that our existence lowers the cost of being a goofoff in high school. There's some truth to that, but from a pragmatic perspective, there have always been – and will always be – teenagers who goof off. We can either write them off at 17, or not. I vote not. From a systems perspective, we can't afford to squander all the late-blooming talent out there; from a humanitarian perspective, it would be unconscionable. Better to allow fresh starts, even if it involves taking the long view when some snot-nosed teenager skips gym to go make out with his girlfriend or chug Boone's Farm Apple Wine behind the bleachers. (I'll probably take a less philosophical view of these issues when The Boy is a teenager.)

The argument for second chances rests on a recognition of the complexity of life and motives, and an assumption about the purpose of college. If the purpose of college is to equip students with life and/or employment skills, I could imagine that different students would take different amounts of time to attain those skills. If the purpose is a sort of IQ screening, separating nature's aristocrats from nature's proles, then do-overs are unconscionable distortions. I lean towards the former.

That said, though, there are still different ways to handle do-overs. My sense is that one freebie, followed by averaging, is probably about right, though I'd have reservations about a kid doing that too many times. (Maybe increase the tuition for each subsequent attempt? The first time is at x tuition, the second at 2x, the third at 3x, etc. That would deter the opportunistic grade-grubbers.) I'm also not a fan of do-overs if the kid passed the class. Leaving aside the ambiguity of the 'D' grade, I'm not inclined to support do-overs for C's or better. But that's me.

All of that said, if the policy is at least rational, and it's published, and the kid took the risk, then I say the kid who changed a D to an F is SOL. You pays your money, you takes your chances. If the kid was given a second chance in good faith and he whiffed, that's really his problem.

Wise and noble blogosphere – what do you think about do-overs?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.