How to transform an early course withdrawal into a timely catch-up opportunity

Accelerated courses allow students to keep pace with credit-hour requirements and critical courses

By Alexa Silverman

Withdrawing from a critical course isn’t just a minor inconvenience—it can set a student’s whole degree plan back a semester or more. They might need to spend the next term repeating the course, and they may have to wait even longer (a term or a year) to take any post-requisites.

What if, instead of waiting a full term to repeat a dropped course, a student could repeat it in the same term and stay on track?

A number of universities are experimenting with accelerated courses, which start halfway through the regular term and meet more frequently or have longer class sessions. While accelerated courses might mean that students need to spend more time each day on coursework and assignments, they create more opportunities for in-depth class discussions.

As seen in one example from the University of Alabama, accelerated courses often also have added student support structures like early alerts and predictive risk scoring; another option is to add supplemental instruction and tutoring sessions.

Learn how our analytics platform can help you identify at-risk students

Once universities add accelerated sections of most or all of their high-demand gateway courses, they can offer a number of different options so to help students avoid delays in course completion, or at least remain enrolled full-time.

Accelerated Courses Offer Four Ways to Get Back on Pace

Accelerated courses offer four ways to get back on pace

Temple University's Fly in 4 program

As part of its Fly in 4 graduation guarantee campaign, Temple University divided its traditional semesters into two seven-week “parts of term” (Part A and Part B). Combined with an effort to add more gateway course offerings in summer, parts of term help Temple students ensure they complete 30 credit hours per year, as they agree to do when they sign up for Fly in 4.

Temple, like most institutions, is just beginning to experiment with accelerated courses. To build faculty support they will need to eventually achieve a full-scale set of part-of-term offerings. Temple is starting with faculty who have experience in accelerated course formats (typically from summer courses). Those faculty can use parts of term as a testing ground for accelerated versions of any course they choose; over time they’ll be able to demonstrate to their peers that accelerated courses are a worthwhile and effective student success strategy.

Align financial aid disbursement with the new academic calendar

One of the major challenges Temple encountered was helping students apply their financial aid to part-of-term courses. Under the traditional financial aid schedule, adding or dropping an accelerated course could change how much aid a student was eligible for. Temple has now aligned its aid disbursement and refund schedule with the newly subdivided academic calendar, adding a second enrollment census for the second part of term.

At the beginning of the term, Temple disburses student aid based on a student’s current enrollment, not projected enrollment (i.e. if a student is enrolled in 12 credits, the financial aid office does not assume they will take a Part B course). That way, students don’t have to repay any upfront funding if they decide not to use it for Part B later on.

Likewise, Temple does not ask students to reimburse their leftover aid funding immediately when they drop a course in the first part of term; instead, they have a chance to sign up for a Part B course and keep their aid. If a student does reduce their credit load from their initial enrollment, Temple waits until the Part B census to ask the student to return their unused aid dollars.

If Temple realizes the full opportunity from accelerated courses, students will have a cost-effective way to maintain a full course load and progress toward graduation after the otherwise risky decision to withdraw from a critical course.

Think a sophomore with a 3.0 GPA won't drop out? Think again.

Out of students with a first-year GPA between 2.0 and 3.0, just over half of this group will graduate. Nearly one-third will drop out in the second year or later.

Download the white paper and learn the indicators for this risk group—and how you can use them to improve retention at your university.

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