As part of ongoing efforts to mitigate first-year failure rates, a new option will be offered to 1A students on a trial basis starting this Fall term with full implementation projected for Fall 2011. Students who find themselves in trouble between midterms and finals will be able to drop 2 of their courses, presumably enabling them to focus on and pass their remaining courses.
The two courses will be re-taken the following summer, along with “Special Topics in Engineering,” a course designed to develop students study habits, note-taking skills and generally prepare students for university life. Only common courses can be dropped, as the remedial classes will see students from all programs combined: those struggling with concept courses are out of luck. Similarly, each program may place additional restrictions (eg. Chem Eng students may not drop Che 102).
4-stream students who already have a job would still go on co-op as regular, while those without a job are given the option to drop co-op as well. 8-stream students would also gain an extra co-op the following fall or winter before joining the next years’ cohort. While the exact implementation is being worked out with the pilot and is difficult to explain in text, students will graduate 1 year late with the extra ‘half’ academic term, one extra co-op, and one term off (or possibly another extra co-op).
This option came as one of 25 recommendations from the First-Year Performance Task Force, designed to address first-year failure rates that have been rising since the elimination of Grade 13, with a 1B failure rate of almost 20% in recent years. It’s clear students entering from high school are less capable of handling the university workload: while UW can attempt to address this cause, the bulk of UW’s power lies in what to do with students once they are here.
Other recommendations from the First-Year Performance Task Force include creating a ‘hell week’ for midterms, revising the 1A curriculum to incorporate study skills, revising admission standards, quicker marking and feedback on student performance and improving the quality of teaching through the Centre for Teaching Excellence. It is incumbent the student executive hold administration accountable to these recommendations and hopefully many of the 25 recommendations will be implemented and create a positive impact on mitigating the first-year failure rates.
One of the more controversial aspects of this measure is that it replaces a previous transitioning measure in the form of a lowered passing standard (50%) for 1A students. The main problem with this rule was that over half the students passing 1A with a mark between 50 and 60% subsequently went on to fail 1B. Rather than displacing failures to 1B, the new measure is designed to help struggling students self-identify and improve their preparedness for university before moving on to more difficult terms. The measure was largely student-driven, as students were concerned about failures appearing on their transcript negatively affecting future job prospects. While graduation may be delayed a year, the new measure will ideally give students the skills they need to be successful at the University of Waterloo, while not leaving a black mark on their transcript.