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Drop in persistence: evidence or explanations in Calif. CC?

  1. May 21, 2015 #1


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    I've been teaching physics at a community college in California since 1996. Starting around 2010, I seem to have noticed a change in the behavior of my students, which is that much larger numbers of them seem to be dropping the course because although they're passing, they want a higher grade than what they're getting. They get a W on their transcript, but it doesn't affect their GPA. They can then go back and retake the course. This behavior has always existed, and there have always been incentives to do it, but it seems to have gotten more extreme. E.g., for the first time I'm getting students who have an A but drop because their A is costing them too much effort, or they're afraid they'll get a B on the final and drop to a B for the semester.

    Has anyone seen any evidence that this is really happening, or does my experience not generalize? If it is happening, why would it be happening?

    I have come up with one theory, but I don't have any data to test it. After the economic crash of 2008, the California public higher education system had its funding cut, and the pipeline of students started to get clogged. Students couldn't get the classes they needed in order to graduate in any reasonable amount of time. In an attempt to deal with this, the legislature mandated creation of new community college degrees called AST degrees in an attempt to increase throughput. Getting an AST is supposed to qualify you for admission to a CSU campus, which is where the vast majority of our students transfer. When the economy got better, the state started raising funding again for the CC and UC systems, they didn't do it for CSU. The overburdened CSUs have apparently looked at the situation and responded by increasing their admissions standards for transfer students in popular majors. E.g., CSUF's kinesiology department now requires either a 3.8 GPA (!) or a 3.0 and an AST. This massively increases pressure on students to get high grades, and it also may have changed the application process to focus very narrowly on these two factors (GPA and AST) to the exclusion of others, such as whether the student has a transcript littered with Ws. Therefore there may be a new and overwhelming perverse incentive for students to use the W as a GPA-enhancement tool. This is sort of like getting five abortions every year as a method of birth control.

    Does this theory make any sense? I don't know that much about CSU transfer admissions, so I may be totally wrong here. If the effect exists in other states, then clearly this specific scenario involving California legislation can't be the explanation.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 26, 2015 #2
    Thanks for the post! This is an automated courtesy bump. Sorry you aren't generating responses at the moment. Do you have any further information, come to any new conclusions or is it possible to reword the post?
  4. May 27, 2015 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    I haven't seen this to the degree that you have, but this past year I have noticed a similar behavior by undergrads. I agree that one explanation is the need to have an unreasonably high GPA in order to move on to the next stage of schooling, I mentioned in a different thread that our institution (based on pressures from the state government) has recently changed the rules about 'W', in that students with excessive withdraws risk academic suspension and even expulsion. So, we will see if that alters student behavior.
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