It is not that easy. Students must finish their studies in time or most will get into extra debt for which they have no payoff plan. The college wants them to graduate so their statistics look good and they can internally compete better for money. Professors fall into two groups, roughly: one, who does not care much, expecting students to be responsible adults; and one, who care and want to keep rigor where it needs to be to avoid falling behind.
Ime academic advising at college is a mixed bag. My university has recently “improved” its freshman advising by hiring professional advisors. That is good for improving student’s non-academic aspects, like study abroad, general university course offerings, extra-curricular activities and what employers may think of them, but it is not helping academic advising. After all, what does someone with a psychology bachelor’s degree know about math placement for physics courses?
As a consequence of the new system, we get to see our majors later and we bond less with them. They drift through the academic part with less orientation. In times of covid, the new advising has helped for navigating the many non-academic aspects of the experience. There is massive mental health coaching going on, for example. Otoh it has been very bad for academic issues.
In my three classes I had unique outcomes in each. The graduation stopper Stat Mech course saw two students fail, two students receive a D grade, which is an obstacle for grad school, and one student withdraw. Out of ten students. Still, seven can go on to graduate in May.
The academic performance behind these grades was abysmal across most of the spectrum. Most students consistently cheated on homework, and the final exam showed as much. I made it barely into teaching the last chapter, which is foundational for grad school. I have never covered this little material before in this course. The teaching speed needed to be slowed down too often to carry a reasonable number of students through. The exam showed that the students struggled with the new core material, I did not even test on the last chapter, and the old chapters showed that there had been no sustained learning.
Miguel came out with an A and so did Eidan. West, Jim, and Cy bombed the exam. Wayne did not come and failed the class. Fred did alright, his good time management saw him through, but I doubt that he learned much or that he will retain. Cy’s notoriously good hw, most likely straight from cheating, did not help her this time she ended with a D and only because she handed in post-exam bonus homework, which brought her overall to 57.5%, which I then rounded up to 60; the bonus task was to summarize a later chapter. Only four students did it.
Here is my prediction from the first day of classes:
“If I had to wager a guess to predict final grades before curve, I would probably say that Miguel will be top of the class, with a high B or low A, next Eidan and Silvia with a B, then Jim with a decent C. Low Cs are possible for Fred, Danish and Wayne if they keep focussed. Cy, Jon, and West would most likely work toward a D. After curve, they may all pass with a C or better.“
Not far off, I would say. Silvia was slightly worse than expected although she clinched that predicted B after curve. Miguel and Eidan got their A, Eidan only after the 2% curve. Jon benefitted from the curve too, getting a B after an exam average of 69.5%. Fred came in with a solid C. West’s final grade was a 47%, he handed in only three of eight homework and did poorly on exams. Jim ended up with a D, which humbled him. I am writing letters of recommendation for him for grad school and I pushed him to set it up before final grades, or else I would have to write about this class. He snickered then and he understood when he saw the final exam. His work on it was shockingly uninformed. He had retained nothing and he almost remembered nothing. He got a 49% on the final, but earlier grades made him achieve at least a D overall. From his list of ten grad schools: Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, Boulder, Cornell.
My beginner physics one class for STEM majors was a disaster. I ended up failing twelve of forty eight students, but there were also eight withdrawals, bringing the WDF rate to twenty of fifty six, or 36 %. This class included nineteen new majors in my department, and I cut them almost in half with my grades: eleven passed, nine failed and will have to repeat the class. Two of the latter have already changed major, two of the good students are contemplating that too. I am working on them to convince them to stay. Five of the majors got an A and built the top of the class, three got a B. If they all stay in the major and return in spring that is a reasonable size group. Perhaps, with much help two or three more can be finagled to our degree. You can see what the problem is: degrees where fewer than ten graduate on average are seen as borderline not viable majors.
I also taught the follow-up class physics two this term. It was a positive surprise. I still ended up failing six of fifty and had three withdrawals (17% failure rate) and one incomplete. Overall though, not bad. Nine A and twenty one B grades. Few majors though. One passed with a B, one had a D, another an F (for the third time, so I think it is game over; she’s an African American and I have tried everything I know to help her. Sometimes it just doesn’t work.). The last one is the incomplete. We’ll have to see about him.