High freshman dropout rate merits new educational approach

Many who have participated in a university convocation ceremony are familiar with the exercise where the university’s speaker instructs each incoming freshman to look to the student sitting on their left and right and then states that only two out of each three students will make it to the next school year. While it might seem dramatic, there is some truth to this exercise, as official statistics ascertain that about one-third of all college freshmen will never move on to become sophomores.

There are plenty of causes surrounding this phenomenon. Previously high-ranking students in high school may become discouraged after experiencing failure for the first time. High school itself may not be adequately preparing students for higher education. Social aspects of college, including the first taste of freedom in relation to time management, can also take their toll.

Freshman biology major Marineh Harutunian stresses the importance of “read[ing] the syllabus. The syllabus is so important for everything you are doing in class. Don’t know if you have homework? Syllabus … It’s all about the syllabus.” This is something that many students underestimate, possibly contributing to low freshman retention rates.

While there are many things that plausibly contribute to the high freshman dropout rate, UMBC’s primary focus should be improving itself as a university in order to ensure that incoming students have a higher chance of succeeding at the inception of their college careers, as well as throughout the rest of their education.

Brown University has taken a large step to combat this problem. The school allows students to choose whether they wish to take a class for a grade (A, B, or C with failing grades unrecorded) or a designation of “satisfactory” or “no credit.”

Despite the success of BU’s strategy, Harutunian was unsure of the technique, stating, “If we replace [a grade] with a pass/fail note instead, those getting a C may be less nervous and those getting an A may be more nervous … it would create an average.” These concerns are valid, as it is possible that students could take advantage of the system, while others may be unsatisfied with not knowing their definite grade. If implemented, UMBC could modify the concept in order to fit its specific needs.

Instead of all classes being given the choice of satisfactory/no credit (i.e. pass/fail), a few adjustments can be made. UMBC could give students the pass/fail option only in general education classes which are not affiliated with the student’s chosen major. UMBC could also perhaps limit the amount of times a student can choose to use the satisfactory/no credit system.

This method can potentially eliminate some of the stress that a freshman experiences during their first semester. With that, it can also allow students to become further motivated to take classes that they may not have initially intended to take. Instead of selecting the most undemanding class possible in order to receive a necessary gen-ed credit and to boost their GPA, a student may alternatively decide to take a more compelling, but difficult, course.

This unique program can potentially create interest in truly learning and experiencing new things, as opposed to just taking classes out of necessity. UMBC should consider implementing such a program in order to ensure that as many freshman as possible are able to continue their education past their first year in college.