The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has released a discussion paper calling for a revised drop credit policy.
“Academic forgiveness policies support students in extenuating circumstances,” reads the report. “Across universities in North America, institutional-wide academic forgiveness policies are the standard. By implementing similar policies, the University of Toronto would align itself with peer North American institutions.”
In the paper, UTSU recommends that students be allowed to make multiple attempts at a course, and that the highest subsequent mark be reflected on their transcript, with the original mark deleted. Under the union’s proposal, only the best attempt at a class would also be used in calculating cumulative grade point averages (CGPA).
The justification for such a recommendation according to the UTSU is the external factors that could affect a student’s academic performance, such as household education levels, mental health, and socio-economic status.
“Academic performance is tied to realities that extend beyond the borders of our campuses… Multiple course attempts are a means of ensuring students with extenuating circumstances can progress in their academic careers,” the report finds.
The report also identifies problems with the current appeals process, suggesting that it is “lengthy” and “cumbersome,” and can take anywhere from seven days to several months to complete.
The UTSU justifies reflecting the higher mark on the transcript and in the calculation of the CGPA, suggesting that “by committing to reflect the improvement of performance on both students’ CGPAs and transcripts, the university would honour its commitment to recognizing academic achievements. It would also help to ensure that students are not penalized for extenuating circumstances and individual hardships.”
The report cites examples of other North American universities who have different or more flexible drop credit and academic policies.
For example, at Carleton University, the original course attempt and grade are bumped out of your degree and are moved to a section of your audit called “Courses Set Aside” when a course is repeated. Both grades appear on Carleton transcripts, but only the most recent grade is included in CGPA calculations.
“I’m very happy that the UTSU has a drop-credit proposal, and that they’ve featured it fairly prominently in their election platform. It’s an example of the sort of academic advocacy that I think should be the UTSU’s main focus, along with student services,” said Aidan Fishman, an undergraduate representative on the Governing Council.
The UTSU calls for students to be free to swap out their lower grade three times over the course of their undergraduate careers.
Fishman agrees that there should be a limit placed on the policy, but thinks that three attempts is too many.
“My only minor criticism is that I don’t see why three drop-credits per student, rather than one or two, is necessary — at that point, I fear that this system could be exploited simply trying to raise sub-par marks in some courses for medical or law school purposes, rather than those truly afflicted by [extenuating circumstances].”
“All that being said, drop credit would be fairly low-impact; it would only affect students who do particularly poorly in 1–3 courses that they require in order to complete their degree, and who have time and money to retake those courses. I believe that pushing average U of T marks upward from their extremely low current level and altering the breadth requirement system to work better for students are likely to incur far more benefit for a far larger group of students,” said Fishman, who has made his own proposals regarding academic performance at U of T.
The UTSU recommends that the policy be made simple and easy to access through ROSI or New Generation Student Information Services (NGIS) and that information about the policy and academic appeals be provided to students upon enrollment in courses. The UTSU expressed concern that students often do not find out about the appeals process until some time after an academic issue arises.
“By promoting the policy through an online student registration system, every student would be aware of the policy and would be more likely to understand and not misuse it,” says the report.
Finally, UTSU recommends that U of T develop a university-wide standard for making multiple course attempts; right now, policies on multiple course attempts are different across faculties.
“Standard practice across faculties would facilitate academic fairness for all students. Other post-secondary institutions investigated in our report have established standard, institutional-wide practices.”
University registrars and administrators declined to comment on the UTSU’s proposal.