BOR limits withdrawals

By Sara Bertsch Managing Editor

A new policy, passed by the South Dakota Board of Regents, will take effect next semester limiting the number of withdrawals students are allowed to receive on their transcript.

In December, the SDBOR approved the policy limiting each student to no more than six withdrawals — often referred to as Ws.

This means that during a student’s undergraduate career, they can receive a W grade only six times and after that an F grade will be assigned.

According to Laurie Nichols, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, this is part of ongoing work by the SDBOR to help improve students’ academic experience.

“There’s been a huge effort over the last several years to help students graduate from college and contain the cost of higher education at the same time,” Nichols said.

When students take a W for a course, they are receiving no credit but still paying to take the class. Most students are required to retake the course, thus paying for the class twice.

“They [students] are getting a big W on their transcript and have to come back and take it again so they are double-paying for the class,” Nichols said. “And so if you start doing the math, there is a lot of wasted dollars happening.”

Not only are students paying more money, they are also decreasing their chance of graduation when they overuse Ws on their transcript, Nichols said.

Some students take advantage of Ws through an action called ‘course shopping.’ This is when students register for more courses than they intend to take. Eventually they drop the most difficult courses early in the semester.

There is an eight-day period where students can drop courses and not pay for the course at the beginning of each academic semester. After this period is up, students are billed for the courses they are enrolled in. This, according to Nichols, drives up the cost of education because they are still paying for the credits yet withdrawing from the course later in the semester.

“It’s not that we think the students shouldn’t have any [withdrawals], it’s just that we don’t think it should be abused,” Nichols said.

In some courses, the amount of students allowed to take the class is limited, creating a waitlist.

“What that student doesn’t realize is that they have tied up a seat in that class, yet they don’t complete it,” Nichols said.

Each year, Scott Pedersen, a professor in the biology/microbiology department, sees a significant number of students withdraw from his Anatomy course.

“Historically, my course [BIOL-221 Anatomy] has pushed far too many students into making that hard decision to W or not,” Pedersen said. “However, 14 years of data show that there are two primary reasons why students take the W in my course: one, students in very competitive programs take the W to protect their GPAs, and two, freshmen take the W when they realize that they had not yet developed the study skills to tackle such a challenging 200-level course.”

Pedersen, who has taught Anatomy for 15 years, finds that the new policy is appropriate and should not affect his course in the upcoming semesters.

“Obviously, taking the W is a pragmatic way to safe-guard a student’s GPA,” Pedersen said. “However, the BOR data was clear that the W was being used and abused far too often.”

Silvia Zanini, a sophomore exercise science major, believes that the new limit is okay as long as it is not eliminated. 

“I’ve never gotten a W but I know that Anatomy is hard…” Zanini said. “If something were to go wrong you get a bad grade, it [taking a W grade] is the only option.”

Zanini does however find that numerous W’s on a transcript can reflect negatively on students and that ‘you may look like a quitter’ with too many. 

Even though there is a limit of six withdrawals, the policy has a few exceptions. W’s received by transfer students at other institutions will not be counted. The policy will start once students begin attending classes at SDSU or any other SDBOR institutions.

This also goes for administrative withdraws. An administrative withdrawal is when a student leaves the university for an entire semester.  It will not count against the student until they decide to return to the university.

Limiting the number of withdrawals to better help students graduate on time and contain education costs is just a part of the SDBOR’s future plans according to Nichols.

“You are going to see a lot of activity on this agenda – completing college in four years and containing the cost,” Nichols said.

Some students, like Riley Mehlhaf and Brittany Hanson who are pre-nursing majors, find that this new policy will help students more than it hurts them.

“It’s not going to affect me…” Mehlhaf said. “I think it makes sense and it’s going to save students money anyway.”

As nursing students Mehlhaf and Hanson already have a strict and preset schedule laid out for them. They don’t plan or foresee any W’s during their college career.

According to Nichols, there is no ‘backtracking’ when it comes to W’s that have already occurred. The SDBOR is still working on implementation rules.