Team looks to stop course withdrawals, guide students

WSU system based on program that prevented 40 percent of drops


LUKE HOLLISTER | The Daily Evergreen

Greg Crouch, associate chair for undergraduate studies, explains how he wants to help students who feel depressed or overworked.

ANGELICA RELENTE, Evergreen editor-in-chief

WSU is trying to prevent students dropping or withdrawing from courses by connecting them with resources they need before it is too late.

Faculty, advisers and representatives from the Office of the Provost teamed up with the Enterprise Systems Group, which manages the university’s network and communications infrastructure, to create a course withdrawal tracking system.

Erica Austin, vice provost for Academic Affairs, said last semester the team consulted student-based focus groups to make sure they were providing clear, appropriate reasons as to why a student would drop or withdraw from a course.

They launched a test run, tracking why students dropped or withdrew. Common reasons ranged from feeling overwhelmed by the course load to concerns that their GPA could affect their financial aid.

Of the 1,063 WSU students Austin and her team gathered responses from, about a quarter dropped courses before the 30th day of class because they were overwhelmed by the course load. Eighteen percent of a group of 2,007 students withdrew from a course after the 30th day for the same reason.

Austin and her team analyzed the responses and decided to develop a way to display messages that included resources for students before they confirm to drop or withdraw.

“Sometimes I think students feel like they’re swimming against the tide a little bit, with all the things they have to juggle,” Austin said. “They don’t realize how much help there is available for them.”

Students choose from a list of reasons if they decide to drop or withdraw from a class. The message appears in a box with links directing them to WSU’s Guide app, Health & Wellness Services or the Student Financial Services page.

In an effort to make the system better, she said, the group decided to send alerts to advisers, Health & Wellness Services and Student Financial Services, depending on the student’s chosen reason for dropping or withdrawing. The alerts include the student’s name, reason for dropping or withdrawing and email address.

Austin said the course withdrawal tracking system sprouted from a similar survey module at Pennsylvania State University.

Penn State’s module guides students through an automated series of prompts regarding their reason for dropping or withdrawing. If a student wishes to drop a course, they will give their major, reason for dropping and anticipated grade. If a student wishes to withdraw, on the other hand, the student must select from a list of 22 academic and non-academic reasons.

Afterward, personalized advice will be given to the student based on their responses, as well as a list of consequences they might face if they withdraw or drop from the course. If a student still insists on leaving the class, the module requires a password to confirm the action.

About 40 percent of students decided not to drop or withdraw their course after going through Penn State’s module, according to the Education Advisory Board.

Austin said she was interested in the idea and wanted to take it a step further and go beyond passive intervention.

The system will allow students to be better informed about where they can get help if they need it, Austin said. The Office of the Provost is also hoping to work with other campuses to make the Guide app more accessible for other campuses to use next fall.

Greg Crouch, clinical professor and associate chair for undergraduate studies, suggested teaming up faculty, advisers and Provost’s Office staff with the Enterprise Systems Group to create WSU’s system.

“All of a sudden these meetings started happening,” Crouch said. “It was like a perfect storm.”

Crouch pointed out it is difficult to convince students to attend office hours. He said the course withdrawal tracking project is a good way to track issues that may need attention or immediate help.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot, as we’ve seen, to make that confluence of stress and other factors,” Crouch said. “We’re trying to prevent suicide; we’re trying to prevent people from crashing their careers because they make bad choices.”

Austin said she hears from advisers almost every day, thanking her for building a platform to prevent course drops and withdrawals.

“We are really hoping that it’s going to make a big difference for students,” Austin said.