The University of Southern Mississippi’s student success initiatives are designed to change the academic environment at Southern Miss by creating an atmosphere where students have to invest in their education. Here is a list of some of the biggest changes that you will need to consider when preparing your Fall 2014 syllabi.
The academic calendar has changed. Students now have six school days to add and drop classes. On the seventh day, their schedule is set and they have to formally withdraw to drop the class (with both a W grade, an academic penalty, and a 100% financial penalty). There is no longer a WF and WP grade. From the seventh day of the semester through the first fiftieth, students who withdraw will receive W grade. After that, students must complete the class for a grade (although Withdraw Committee will hear extremely exceptional cases). The new policy encourages students to get to work at the start of the semester and to commit to their classes. It makes it possible for us to distribute financial aid a little more quickly and should reduce the number of students who do not have the textbook a month into the class. Instructors will no longer have to wait to the third week of class to really start teaching.
Please remind your students of this new policy on the first day of class and include a note about withdrawals in your syllabus. It is essential that students get their schedule organized quickly.
(There is an important exception to the withdraw with grade penalty rule. Sometimes a student might start a high-level class when they should have been in a lower level class. Students can swap classes in the department [for example, move from Spanish 102 to Spanish 101] if both instructors and the chair of the department agree.)
The incomplete policy has not changed, but we expect now that students cannot drop a class after the fiftieth day that there will be more requests for incompletes. Incompletes are, as always, at the discretion of the instructor and incompletes that are not finished in a semester become F grades. You may want to include your policy on incompletes in the syllabus.
Although the new policies make it more difficult for students to withdraw, we’ve offered students who do poorly in a class more opportunities to retake the class. In the past students could retake up to six credits, now they can retake twelve.
During the first week of classes, we are asking that faculty submit non-attending grades after you have met with a class for the first time. These NA grades allow us to follow up with students who should have been in class and to clear from the roster students who are not planning on attending. This will make life simpler for you and it helps us to provide IHL with more accurate data (ensuring that our future funding is accurately calculated).
Studies show that students who are tested early in the semester establish personal benchmarks and do better. The Provost’s Office is recommending a test, graded or ungraded, be administer in the first week of class if it all possible. Ideally the assignment might be given and graded in the first six days of class so students can get a sense if they have the skills necessary to take your class.
All students should have submitted graded material by week six when we will ask for a preliminary grade for students in your class. (Don’t worry, we are not just piling on new requirements. The six-week grade will replace the midterm grade. Earlier grades give us more opportunities to reach out and help students in need. By the way, since grades are no longer being collected at midterm, we are now calling them interim grades.)
Students who do not attend classes do not do well in their classes and are risk of not completing their degree. Faculty are solely responsible for determining the penalty for not attending classes, and the University encourages you to clearly spell out your attendance policy in your syllabus. Best practices suggest that students should not miss more than 10% of a class.
The University is considering a new plagiarism policy that will assign XF failing grades for plagiarism and other academic integrity violations. This policy has been reviewed by all of the University’s governing committees and you may have heard something about it. However, it has not yet been formally implemented. We will keep you posted. Check back for more information.
Starting in the spring of 2014, new advising procedures were implemented. The idea is simple. Students should take responsibility for their schedules. Under these new guidelines, students sign up for classes and then come to advising. This allows advisors to check over the schedule the student has created more quickly and to use the more of the advising appointment to mentor students on internship opportunities, study skills, or anything else the student might need. However, the new policies only work if students go to their advising appointments and if faculty clear their schedules during the visit. Please keep your students informed about these new changes. It might be helpful if you include a note in your syllabus.
We are working on two things to help advisors. We are preparing new advising guidelines, time management calculators, and other tools. We are also working with iTech to create a master, campus-wide advising calendar where students can sign up for appointments. We have also asked all departments to begin considering advising—not just quantity, but quality—in annual evaluations.
We want to help you to improve your teaching and your syllabi. Check back with the Student Success Initiative website during the fall semester. We will be soliciting proposals from faculty who want to revise their courses to improve student success and retention.