Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I'm not Dropping!

So, as I sit here tonight, alone in the dark with my misery...

I could not fight the urge to check my emails. 

I open my mailbox and see the following:

Dear Crazyprof,

I will be remaining in the course based on the advice of several sources.

Huh? ...

Okay, so let's back up.  About 2 days ago, we had our midterm.  The grading policy in the syllabus stipulates that there is a minimum cut-off score.  Students who score less than that minimum score will automatically flunk the course.

Well, Crazystudent's parents fell victim to the midterm.  As a result, he missed the exam and then asked for a make-up.  I let him take a make-up right after class and he royally bombs the exam. 

Naturally enough, his next question is "So, what do I need to do on the final in order to pass the class?"

Me:  You can't pass the class now.  It's impossible.  It's all explained in the syllabus.

Crazystudent:  I didn't read the syllabus.

Me:  And why are you telling me that?  It still applies to you!

Crazystudent:  But my financial aid!  What am I going to do about my financial aid?! 

Me:  There are some things I just can't help. 

Crazystudent:  So are you saying I should just drop out?

Me:  Unfortunately, yes.  It is not possible to pass this class.

So I get that email from the student saying that he is here to stay.  What does one do?  Two shots of Bourbon or three before class?

Or should I just smoke a bowl and get it over with?


  1. If your college doesn't allow you to drop students, then you just proceed as if everything is normal. Your snowflake is playing the financial aid game. If the student drops a class before a certain percentage of the semester is done, then he or she is on the hook to pay it back. It's also possible, depending on previous behavior, that the student might not be eligible for future aid based on too many drops.

    That money is long gone. We could fool ourselves and say it was all spent on tuition, books, and supplies, but let's be honest: the system is set up to allow students to make a living, albeit not a great one on its own, from financial aid. A certain percentage of them game this system to their advantage. I've had students approach me about not being dropped so they wouldn't have to pay back their aid countless times. I've had students who never showed up call me and demand to be reinstated so they could drop after the magic date had passed, thus allowing them to keep that Pell money they spent on their new cell phones. (Yes, I actually had a student tell me that!)

    Your student knows the grading consequences. Give him the freedom to fail. If he shows any signs of actually wanting to learn so he can do better when he retakes the course, encourage that. Otherwise, go about your business and put your efforts into teaching the ones you know you can save this term.

  2. Yes, this one is easy, I agree with EnglishDoc. One less final exam to grade.

  3. I also agree with the above. I've had students do this for financial-aid reasons. (Another reason, apparently, is to maintain student-visa status -- sometimes such students never show up to a single class or submit any work at all.)

  4. I'm not sure how it works elsewhere, but in Canada financial aid (student loans and grants) is generally meant to be used to cover the costs of being a student, whether those are tuition and books, or rent and food. Having access to a phone, having a steady supply of caffeine, and covering essential expenses for any nonhuman dependents all strike me as reasonable things.

    As for a friend of mine who spent part of their student-loan money to have a professional write their term-papers, well . . .

  5. In this situation I tell students they have only two choices - W or F - period. It is up to them whether they want their GPA to be impacted with the F.

  6. What EnglishDoc said: let 'em fail.

  7. The snowflake can still learn a lot during the second half of the class, even in failing. I often tell my students, "You don't have to pass to grow."

    And I don't know about you, but I've had to pay every single cent of my student loans back, whether it helped pay for books or pizza... the problem with dropping to less than (12?) credits, is that your loans drop into repayment now, instead of deferment until after graduation. Could spell disaster.

  8. "You don't have to pass to grow."

    Yikes, Julie! That's what I told my grade-grubbing students yesterday (but I think I added a "theoretically," as in "theoretically, you could fail all your classes but still learn a lot.") And I immediately had visions of it being cited, on my student evaluations and/or on The Site Which Shall Not Be Named, as proof that I am the antichrist (or at least a heartless proffie who doesn't care about her students and their dreams/ambitions). Do you actually get away with saying it on a regular basis? Although I believe it, I mentally filed it under "things I wouldn't have said if I weren't really exhausted, and won't ever say in front of students again."

  9. Apropos of staying enrolled for the sake of the Pell grant: my school asks me to record a "stopped attending" date for students who have remained registered but haven't actually shown up for class. My understanding is that that date is used to pro-rate various kinds of financial aid for those students. Of course, if they show up sporadically, even if they don't hand in any major work, they get an F rather than a "stopped attending," so it's still possible to game the system (at least until the loans come due).

  10. You've got this covered - just let the grade happen naturally. But give the final, and score it. This will give the student a transparently, syllabus-compliant course score that leads to a properly documented F.

  11. About a decade ago a few students figured something out. Probably innocently at first. And now it's the most cleverly abused loophole going. The FA students register for 20 credits [hear the rest of this in your head being narrated by Ray Liota, and instead of torching bars, picture a raid on the cellphone and keratin treatment kiosks at the mall] and at the drop deadline, they drop their lowest 8 credits worth of grades. This maintains their full time status, but they get the refund money. They don't care that they dropped out with 80% of the course to go and are only getting 40% of the money back, because they didn't pay for it in the first place.

    I hate to punish the good kids for what the rats do, but they really need to either lower the credit limit entirely, or at least lower it for students on FA. I was on major FA and I have no problem with the college telling me "You're on FA. You can't only take 15 credits at a time." If I'm getting help to go to college, I can expect to have to pass all of my classes on the first go if I want to graduate in 4 years. Why let them register for 20 credits in the first place? How many students ever actually pull that off? The most I did was 17 and I did that once. It's such an obvious scam at this point, I can't believe they haven't closed that loophole yet.

    But back to the issue at hand...

    Do not try to convince him to drop. Do not tell him "You're going to fail no matter what." (I mean, because you already have. I'm not saying it didn't need to be said, but that's done now, he's Bartlebying you now, don't take the bait.) If you say anything toward your desired outcome, he will negotiate and to them negotiate means say the opposite to avoid being the "loser".

    What I do is... (basically, I bartleby them right back). One time I acknowledge that there must be some kind of financial aid issue and I say "Well, you don't have to drop if you need it for financial aid, but you still can't pass. If the F hurts your GPA less than losing three credits hurts your finances, then do what you have to do, but you are still getting an F." When he shows up the next time, say "Good, you're still coming. Even though you can't pass, being here will help you when you repeat the course." If there is a handout, on his way out say "You got the handout, right? Because that'll help you when you repeat the course." Find as many ways as possible to use the phrase "repeat the course". He will likely tire of hearing it and disappear. Possibly he will leave because he realizes he can't beat you, but posssibly he'll already know it and leave just because he's tired of hearing it. Either way, dollars to donuts, you drop "repeat the course" as many times as you can, while on the surface inviting him to stay in teh course, he will disappear. On the OFF chance he keeps coming, it will help help when he repeats the course, so no real harm done.

  12. "Freedom to fail." = brilliant. I am definitely going to steal that.

  13. @Cassandra: Yes, I do say it. A lot. I am a bridge troll, teaching Snowflakian as a Second Language. The department's failure rate is around 50%. If you're not ready for Snowflakian 101, I will stop you. My students may complain on the evaluations, but it's barely cogent.

  14. It's not our business what students use financial aid for. What does it matter if they spend it on a cell phone? Why on earth shouldn't they? They're going to have to pay it back anyway. Where does it say "financial aid can only be spent on things we don't think are frivolous, and by the way, you should be looking more grateful for it"? This puritanical attitude, this"if you're poor it's because you deserve to be and you should never, ever ever have a single thing you actually enjoy because who are you to think you deserve to live in any condition but grinding, miserable poverty" - it really bothers me.

  15. @Merely Academic: "It's not our business what students use financial aid for....They're going to have to pay it back anyway."

    Pell Grant refunds have to be paid back? I should probably begin panicking now.

  16. Merely Academic, I think very highly of you, but I can't wrap my head around what you're saying. Why shouldn't poor people be able to afford things? Because they're poor - that's what that means. It's financial aid. It's given to college students. If it should be used for Brazilian hair straightening, why don't such amenities get covered by food stamps? Why can't you use Section 8 money to pay for the motel on Spring Break? Why should you have to go to college at all to get financial aid if you can take the money back and spend it at Starbucks? And you really don't think we all pay when people take loans they won't be prepared to pay back? They won't be prepared. They are living in the moment. These are the same thought processes that had everyone using ARMs 10 years ago which is why we are ALL fucked now. Most of the kids gaming the system for cash now are going to default on these loans. And it won't be the Verizon store or Bella Blowout that get thrown under the bus when they do and the economy takes another shit. It will be us. Teachers and cops are the first to be villified when the economy is bad. No one ever goes after the people who took out $400k mortgages on grocery store cashier's salaries, or the college kids who used their financial aid to look hot for five years and then drop out with 88 credits.

  17. I think where your ideas go wrong is the point where you equate "have to pay them back" with "will pay them back".

    The kids who game the system will not pay back their loans. Quote me, save it in a safe deposit back and remember that I bet you the equivalent $5 USD in 2011 money and if this blog still exists, I will pay up.

  18. At my college, since I teach in a poor urban area, Pell is the most common type of financial aid. It does not have to be paid back unless the student drops before a set date or fails to make adequate progress in his or her educational program. Federal law says that money must be used specifically for tuition, books, supplies, and transportation costs. For any kind of student loan program that's run through the government, the rules state that money must be used for educational expenses; though they are less specific, students can be audited and must be able to show a connection between what they bought and what was required for school. Given that we have no classes which require Droids, a cell phone would not qualify as a legitimate educational expense.

    And yes, as a taxpayer whose funds are supposed to be going toward education and as a state employee who doesn't want to commit fraud, it IS my business how the student spends the money and whether my actions in any way help in gaming the system.

  19. @EnglishDoc: "Federal law says that money must be used specifically for tuition, books, supplies, and transportation costs."

    ??? The orientation at the community college I go to left me with the impression that the Pell refund--the excess of the grant over the tuition costs--can legally be spent on anything except a motor vehicle.

    Let's hope I got the right impression, because I already used my refund card to purchase the computer game Left 4 Dead 2.

    It has educational value if you ever have to survive the zombie apocalypse!


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