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Course Completion and Drop/Add

Defining your course completion and drop/add policies is critical for smooth transitions in and out of classes for students, as well as keeping track of course completion and drop rates for program evaluation purposes. Numerous program characteristics can impact what these policies look like. In particular, programs will have different approaches depending on whether they are full-time or part-time/supplemental, semester-based or rolling enrollment/year-round, fully online or hybrid, on-site or geographically dispersed.

In situations where students are completing online courses onsite and in the context of a traditional school calendar, there is not much reason to have different policies for your online classes than you do for your face-to-face classes. For example, if your traditional policies state that a student can drop a class without penalty within the first two weeks of a semester, the same can apply to an online class. If a student who gets an “incomplete” at the end of a semester and then has two weeks to finish the course, the same policies can apply.

In rolling enrollment and flexible pacing situations that are not tied to a traditional school calendar, you’ll still need clear definitions of course completion, course drop deadlines, and time limits. For example, course completion is typically calculated by simply dividing the number of students who have completed a course by the number of students who originally enrolled. However, you’ll need precise definitions regarding when a student is said to have enrolled, dropped and completed a course. These definitions often have funding implications, including an impact on enrollment counts for course or LMS licenses. Similar definitions must be developed for full time programs that wish to define a retention rate. Questions to be answered include:

  1. When is a student said to have started a class? Possibilities include: upon signing up (not recommended), following a welcome call, following completion of the first assignment, after two weeks of satisfactory progress, or other milestone.
  2. How long after a student starts a class can they drop without penalty or without counting as an enrollment? Different programs generally vary from 14 to 28 days.
  3. How long does a student have to complete a course, or is it open-ended as long as the student is making progress? How long can students go without showing significant progress or engagement before they are dropped from the class? Based on common truancy or attendance laws for face-to-face programs, full-time online programs often use 10 days of non-engagement as the limit. Consider any implications for funding if a student can participate in a given course across multiple fiscal years.
  4. When is a student said to have completed a course? Do they need to finish all assignments? Complete enough of the course to earn a satisfactory grade? Attempt all assignments?
  5. If a student withdraws or is dropped following the grace period (see question 2 above), what are the implications for:
    • Finances: Does the student or district still have to pay for the course, and does the student still generate state funding (if applicable in your funding model)?
    • Transcript: Does the course appear on the student’s transcript, and if so, what grade or designation is noted?
  6. If yours is a program within a school or district, consider how any inconsistencies between these policies for the online learning program and policies for the traditional classes will impact the parity between programs.