Failure, withdrawal rates for some college courses

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About the data

In March and April, education writer Eleanor Chute asked more than 30 colleges and universities for information on how students perform in classes.

Schools were asked for three sets of performance data: the 10 courses with the most failures and withdrawals, certain 100-level math courses and introductory courses for majors in biology, chemistry and physics as well as the traditional freshman composition class and introductory psychology, which is not only the first course for the major but also a popular elective.

Many schools had never compiled data in this manner. Nor is there a standard technique for doing so. Some declined to provide the information, either because it was too time-consuming to compile or because they viewed it as private. Many needed to be asked repeatedly for the answers.

Over four months, 18 campuses provided data on student performance. This list includes 11 of the 14 State System of Higher Education schools. Indiana, Mansfield and Millersville did not provide the data.

Of the state-related universities, only the Greensburg campus of the University of Pittsburgh and Temple University provided numbers. Penn State and Lincoln universities as well as the main campus and the Johnstown campus of the University of Pittsburgh declined to do so.

Only one private college or university -- Washington & Jefferson -- provided any information on student performance in any courses.

How to read the data

As you browse through the data, you will notice that table headings sometimes change. Schools do not routinely release this information, as they do some other data, such as graduation rates. So there is no standard way of keeping or reporting the data. Some were pulling together such data for the first time. Some provided data for different years or semesters.

For the 10 courses with the most F's and W's, some chose the courses with the largest number of F's and W's, which tended to have large total enrollments, while others provided the courses with the highest percentages of F's and W's, which tended to be a mixture of courses with small and large total enrollments. What each school provided is noted on each chart.

Some schools combined the F's and W's while others provided each separately.

The courses often combined all of the sections offered of the course, so enrollment numbers do not necessarily reflect class size.

Different schools have different policies for when students can withdraw from a class, but the withdrawals counted took place late enough to generate a grade of "W" and are not part of the regular beginning of the term "drop-add" period.


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