First-year forgiveness policy to begin in fall

Media Credit: Keegan Mullen | Hatchet Photographer

Student Association Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno speaks to the Faculty Senate about his propsed first-year forgiveness policy at a meeting Friday. The senate approved the policy, which will begin in the fall.

Starting next academic year, students will be able to retake one course from their first year if they received a D+ or lower.

The policy, which the Faculty Senate passed Friday, will give students a chance to improve their GPAs if they received a grade under that benchmark during the first year of college, student leaders said. Officials said the new policy will give students the opportunity to relearn fundamental materials and have a better transition to college without worrying about the impact of one low grade.

Starting this fall, the course grade for students who retake a class under the policy will be replaced, and students’ GPAs will reflect the new grades. Transfer students will also be able to take advantage of the policy, but the policy only applies to courses taken during their first semester at GW.

I believe and the students believe we should have an academic forgiveness policy at GW.

Student Association Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno first proposed the policy last year. The SA Senate passed a resolution last month in support of adding the policy to next year’s bulletin.

“I believe and the students believe we should have an academic forgiveness policy at GW,” Falcigno said at a Faculty Senate Friday. “We want to create a system that incentivizes students to go back and relearn the material, thus building on future academic success.”

The policy will not apply to courses that are prerequisites to higher level courses the student has already taken, to avoid students retaking courses with material in which they’re already proficient. Retaking a class also means forfeiting the credits earned in the original course, Falcigno said.

The course can only be retaken during a 17-credit semester, or 19-credit for students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. This measure avoids giving an advantage to wealthier students who can afford to pay for an additional credit, he said.

Falcigno said that normal, personal stressors in life – like the death of a relative or moving away from home – coupled with starting college can lead to students not performing well academically during their first year.

“First-year students come here, for a lot of them, to a new city and are transitioning to a much more rigorous course load and a whole new lifestyle,” Falcigno said after the meeting. “This especially applies to international students who could literally be going through an entire shift in lifestyle from their home country to here.”

Some first-year students transfer out because they feel they aren’t given the opportunities to perform at their best, Falcigno said, adding that transferring students hurt GW’s retention and graduation rates.

GW’s freshman retention rate has hovered at about 93 percent for the past few years, higher than that of peer institutions like Boston and New York universities, but has become a major focus for University leaders in recent years.

This is an important step in having fewer rules that constrict students and helping them excel.

Provost Forrest Maltzman said the progress in passing the academic forgiveness policy came from student and faculty leaders working closely together.

“This is an important step in having fewer rules that constrict students and helping them excel,” Maltzman said.

Falcigno said he first came up with the idea of an academic forgiveness policy after researching GW’s market basket schools, many of which have similar policies.

Vanderbilt University allows students to retake any one course, including those students passed. The University of Southern California, which has had the policy for more than 30 years, allows students to retake three courses. Of about 3,000 USC students, an average of 100 take advantage of the rule, Falcigno said.

While faculty were generally supportive of the policy during the Faculty Senate meeting Friday, some brought up questions about the specifics of the policy.

Patrick McHugh, an associate professor of management, said he opposed the earliest review of the policy taking place in five years and proposed an amendment to have the first review in three years instead. The amendment to the policy easily passed the senate.

If we do a five year review we are looking at changes in six or seven years.

“If we do a five year review we are looking at changes in six or seven years,” he said.

Falcigno said at the meeting that he personally thinks the policy should apply to more than one course, but that he and other SA leaders only lobbied for one course because this would be the first time GW would have this policy.

Donald Parsons, a professor of economics, said at the meeting that a friend at the University of California, Davis, told him that some students sometimes “strategically failed” courses they were not doing well in, knowing they could retake it and replace the grade later. He said that while he supported the policy generally, faculty should closely monitor their students to make sure this isn’t happening.

Still, Parsons said the policy would be an academic move in the right direction.

“I see this as an opportunity to increase the rigor of our first-year program,” he said. “We could take advantage of this policy in a very positive way.”

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