Making Higher Grades and Better Progress toward Graduation with a Merit-based W

Progress (2)This is the last post in a three-part series on a merit-based W.

In two previous posts I argued that making the W merit-based helps students take their classes—including liberal arts courses—more seriously as “real world” work with real consequences and helps them develop the vital virtues of responsibility, merit, and integrity. In this final post, I will show that a merit-based W also helps students raise their grades and make timely progress toward graduation, which saves students money.

One would think that by instituting a merit-based W that more students would receive Ds ad Fs, which would lower their GPA and hurt their scholarships. The fact is that the opposite is true.  

This is clearly seen when comparing apples to apples at Concordia University Irvine. Looking at the grades of all students who took MTH 211 during the academic years of 2007-10 (when a student could receive a W at will) and comparing them to the grades of students in the slightly modified Core version, CMTH 101, during the academic years of 2011-14 (with the W being merit-based), we saw the following results.

The percent of students who received a D in MTH 211 stood at 11%, while 11% received an F, and 10% took a W. The percent of students who received a D in CMTH 101 decreased to 8%, even fewer earned an F at 7%, and only 3% received a W. This means that whereas 21% of the students received an F or W under the lax W policy and had to retake MTH 211, only 10% had to do the same under the merit-based W in CMTH 101. Given that 1,000 student took CMTH 101 from 2011-14, this means that 100 more students passed the class the first time compared to before.

In fact, not only did the number of students earning a D or F drastically diminish under the merit-based W policy, but the percentage of Cs and Bs went up. In MTH 211 27% of the students received a B and 25% a C. In CMTH 101 those numbers increased: 33% earned a B and 32% a C. This means that 130 more students out of 1,000 earned a higher grade than they would have under the loose W policy.

Overall the grades of students in CMTH 101 under the merit-based W went up, not down. So did the number of students who passed the class the first time and did not have to take it again. This helped many students make timely progress toward graduation and save them from spending more money on a college degree.

These are significant statistics, especially when it is understood that CMTH 101, being a modified version of MTH 211 for our Core Curriculum, was made more academically rigorous. (Note: similar results were found when comparing two theology courses at Concordia University Irvine—THL 101 and CTHL 101—under the same conditions and time span.)

The potential long-range benefit of this effective policy is further indicated by a recent report from The Education Trust. It showed that students at Virginia Commonwealth University who graduated in four (4) years withdrew from one (1) or no (0) courses. Those who withdrew from four (4) courses tended to graduate in five (5) years, while those who graduated in six (6) years withdrew from eight (8) courses. If Concordia University Irvine’s experience is similar, the merit-based W policy in its commonly-required Core courses will not only push many more students to pass their Core classes, raise their grades, and cultivate the virtues of responsibility, merit, and integrity, but help them keep on track toward a timely graduation with less debt.

Scott Ashmon is Director of Core Curriculum at Concordia University Irvine