Withdrawals are a major risk to timely graduation. They don’t have to be.

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Withdrawals are a major risk to timely graduation. They don’t have to be.

Best practice from the Academic Affairs Forum

When students withdraw from one or more courses, they risk a change to their enrollment status that could endanger their financial aid eligibility, make it difficult to catch up in new classes, and put them on a longer path to graduation.

To address these issues, several departments at the University of Alabama have created accelerated, online course options for students who drop or withdraw within the first 5 weeks of a 15-week term. Designated as Fall II and Spring II, these shorter sessions are not visible to students during initial registration, which prevents them from proactively opting in to the abbreviated online format intended for students in need of a flexible alternative.

During the first five weeks of each term, advisors monitor registration records to identify and contact students who might benefit from these offerings, which are typically high-enrollment, lower-division courses. Campus administrators advertise the Fall II and Spring II sessions with posters and brochures around campus and in advisor offices.

University leaders acknowledge that it can be difficult to match instructor supply with last-minute student demand each term, but department chairs have been relatively successful at predicting the most likely withdrawal candidates and appropriate online alternatives. To find faculty to teach the courses, department chairs draw on a supply of available faculty able to teach high-enrollment courses or look to faculty members who fell short of their intended course load for the term (due to under-enrollment or scheduling changes).

As student performance analytics improve, both faculty and advising professionals will have more tools at their disposal (LMS triggers, early alerts, risk scoring) to provide the optimal mix of withdrawal redirect options for students in shorter and shorter time windows. Student notification might be automated and linked to a web-based withdrawal module (similar to Practice #7: Withdrawal Survey Module, available in the full study) that enables students to seamlessly shift from course withdrawal to registering for an applicable accelerated offering.

See 9 more best practices for raising student retention (Full study available only to institutions with Academic Affairs Forum memberships)

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