Course Withdrawal as a Student Attrition Factor
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Student attrition has serious implications for society as a whole and for students who do not complete postsecondary education (Yorke, 1999). Graduation rate and degrees awarded are the ultimate goals, but there are intermediate achievements as students move toward degree completion that should be tracked and studied. Examples of intermediate measure well-studied are term-to-term retention and year-to-year retention (Moore & Shulock, 2009). Failure to focus on course completion, however, shortchanges possible interventions to increase degree completion (Adelman, 2006). The Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 1231 in 2006 to address student course completion. The bill limits undergraduate students enrolling as first-time freshmen at a public institution of higher education in fall 2007 or later to a total of six dropped courses (Ws) during their entire undergraduate careers. When these six Ws have been used, the student would have to complete all subsequent courses without an option to drop the class. The purpose of this study was to examine whether the goal of reduced withdrawals had actually been realized at Big Town University, a large major research university in Texas post implementation of the new withdrawal policy that limits how many courses undergraduate students could drop controlling for student gender, student ethnicity, student ACT or SAT score, student major, change of student major, and semester GPA. Two cohorts were examined – 2,128 students who enrolled as FTIC pre-implementation the revised withdrawal policy in fall 2005 and a second cohort of 2,067 students who enrolled as FTIC in fall 2007 post-implementation of the revised withdrawal policy. A generalized linear mixed-effects model via use of generalized estimating equations was used to statistically model the variables of the study over time. Results indicated that students did drop fewer classes after the withdrawal policy was implemented. The independent variable of Cohort = 2007 Withdrawal Policy Implementation was statistically significant (p = .042), indicating that students who attended UH after implementation of the withdrawal policy were 23% less likely to withdraw from a class when compared to students who attended school before implementation of the withdrawal policy. Two variables were found to impact the chance of dropping a class - college semester GPA and ethnicity. The variable of GPA was a significant for the dependent variable of Number of Dropped Classes (OR = 0.46, SE OR = 0.03; p < .0005). The magnitude of the odds ratio indicates that for each one unit increase in a student’s GPA, the student is 54% less likely to drop a class. Student ethnicity was tested as a control variable and students who were classified as Asian, Pacific Islander were 62% more likely to drop a class than White students (OR = 1.62, SE OR = 0.46, p < .0005). Results of this study can be used to improve advising practices for students who are considered at risk of dropping classes. Course attrition is the result of many complex variables for example goal change or attainment, uncertainty of educational/career plan, adjustment/transition difficulties, academic difficulty, and personal reasons over which the institution has little control (e.g. health and finances). Recommendations from this study focus on the academic support that institutions could provide to help mitigate the chances of dropping courses due to poor academic performance. The university should track persistence and completion rates of courses by program of study and persistence and completion rates for students in retention-related initiatives to measure the effectiveness of existing programs. Semesterly reviews of students’ attempted hours versus completed hours could provide early flags for students that may require additional support to complete their courses. Based on the finding of this study, monitoring the students GPA and the changes to the GPA for each semester may also be helpful to identify students at risk of dropping classes. This significant relationship of academic performance as measured by GPA to student persistence has been validated by many other studies (Adelman, 2004, 2006; A. W. Astin, 1997; Bennett, 2003; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005) Academic advisors should target students with lower GPAs to provide them with extra assistance to support timely and efficient course completion. Students who are found to have an excessive number of course repeats, failures, and withdrawals should be monitored and required to have mandatory advisement prior to future enrollments. Mid-semester grades and early alert reports for these students should be monitored for potential problems. Effort should be exerted to identify signals along the way of students for students who may be on or off track for completing a degree. Academic Advisors should consider tracking individual student progress metrics like success in first-year math or English or any required core curriculum, credit accumulation, course completion, course drops, and time and credits to degree. This study also suggests that there is need for specialized academic support programs for Asian, Pacific Islander students. Suzuki (2002) suggests increase outreach to underrepresented APA in admissions recruitment as well as when advertising programs and services on campus.