3 Strategies for Decreasing Drop/Fail/Withdraw Rates

A DFW rate is the rate at which college students receive D-grades, F-grades, or Withdraws from courses. Some colleges and universities are now using this data in regards to budget and performance reviews. Now, more than ever before, these rates are being looked at, and unfortunately, these rates are also on the rise.

Although there are many reasons why students withdraw from courses, faculty members can really only control their side of the story. For those looking to make a positive shift, here are three strategies for decreasing DFW rates and increasing student retention:

  1. Assessing
    Try assessing students’ knowledge of the required information at the beginning of the semester or start of a course. This allows aculty members to get a feel for which students may need more dedicated attention, and which students will probably be fine on their own. This pre-test can also help gauge which portions of the curriculum instructors might need to spend more time on.

    While there is no perfect solution, taking the time to measure and understand students' level of knowledge can make learning easier for everyone.

    Assessing students doesn’t need to be time consuming. With Atomic Learning’s skills assessments, faculty members can easily assign an assessment to a particular groups of individuals.

  2. Preparing
    Make it as easy as possible for students to know the basics. Not all students come into a course with the same knowledge or skill set, and changing your curriculum to go over basics for a smaller segment of students isn’t always an option. Not only would that slow down the course, but also hinder those students who would otherwise excel. By providing students that are struggling with tailored coursework, those students can more easily advance to the same level as their peers.

    Give students access to the specific resources they need, including items like MLA Research Paper Basics, Avoiding Plagiarism, Effective Note Taking, and more. Such resources can also help keep class time focused on the core content you are trying to teach. 

  3. Providing Supplemental Instruction
    Not every student has the courage to ask questions during class, or the time to stop by during office hours. They may feel embarrassed about what they don’t know or are feeling less tech savvy then their classmates. Regardless, by providing a way for students to gather the information they need, on their own time, you can help improve the likelihood of them completing the course. On the other hand, there are also students that want to go above and beyond the intended course content, and are always looking for opportunities to dive deeper and learn more. Supplemental instruction can also help those students exceed.

    Providing supplemental instruction can be as simple as sending them a link to an Atomic Learning resource. For example, not all students have mastered the campus LMS (Learning Management System). Supplementing your instructions with resources on Blackboard, Canvas, Brightspace, or others, can provide extra support for those that need help to learn at their own pace, while students that feel comfortable able to skip over it.

Again, there are many reasons that students drop, fail, or withdrawal from a course that are outside of a faculty members control. However, by providing the right kind of added support, they can help students can feel more confident and comfortable in their courses—something that educators strive to do on a regular basis.


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