Data from office of institutional effectiveness reveals surprising lack of low grades and dropouts

How does the data say we are doing?

Rachel Scully, Campus Editor

When students worldwide were forced online due to the pandemic, many questioned what the future held for higher education. Some predictions made by Inside Higher Ed in May 2020 predicted that colleges would maintain a significant online presence and expect continuous debate regarding the value of in-person learning and university closures. Many students have expressed concerns about increased stress, burnout and loss of motivation due to online learning. However, according to Todd Bruce, the assistant provost for institutional effectiveness and assessment, John Carroll students have recently shown impressive numbers in academic performance and retention. 

In the fall of 2020, only 9.3% of students achieved grades of D, D-, F, FA, W or WF — FA, W and WF meaning when a student stops attending a course without officially withdrawing, withdrawal or withdrawal failing. The previous year, before the pandemic, that number was 10.4%. More students were also fully completing more courses in 2020. According to Bruce, 97.8% of students received credit for their classes in fall 2020, which increased 0.4% compared to three years ago.

Students were also given the option to choose a Pass/Fail grading scale, rather than the traditional one.

Political Science professor Colin Swearingen (Photo Courtesy of John Carroll University College of Arts and Sciences)

That isn’t to say the year was easier on students. Political Science Professor Colin Swearingen said he made sure to be lenient with students while still challenging them. 

“Personally during COVID-19, I’ve given students the benefit of the doubt as it relates to grades,” Swearingen told The Carroll News. “This doesn’t mean everyone passes every class, but it’s important to think about what the students are going through. Many of them have had COVID-19, their parents/family have had COVID-19, and/or they’ve been quarantined. I’m not lowering my standards, but I’ve been more flexible with some deadlines or allowing students to redo assignments.”

More first-year students are also returning to the University for the spring semester. According to JCU’s 2020-2021 Fall-Spring Retention data, 606 out of 631 first-year students, or 96%, returned for the spring semester. Last year, 95% of first-year students returned to the University. 

JCU’s transfer retention rate also showed improvement from the previous years; only one transfer student from the fall 2020 semester did not return for the spring semester. According to Bruce, the University usually loses closer to 10 transfer students.

“The stats really are a testament to both the students and faculty at JCU,” said Swearingen. “Those 631 incoming first-year students clearly wanted to be at John Carroll.”

Swearingen also noted how the continuous work from staff has helped students achieve those numbers. 

“It’s also important to highlight the work of our academic success team and our IT office whose creativity in helping students get squared away with advising and technology have been instrumental over the past year.”

While JCU students have excelled academically, stress from coursework still creates issues for students, especially during the pandemic.

“As a senior during the time of the coronavirus pandemic, I have realized that academic stress can reach really high points when social isolation and technological burnout are constantly issues,” said Alex Lafayette ’21. “Before, I could go eat or hang out with all my friends to take a break from academics. Without those options, the pressure never really seems to ease up.”

Despite the circumstances, Lafayette and other students continue to persevere through the stress and pandemic.  

“Thankfully, I’m doing alright academically right now,” said Lafayette. “These last weeks will be extremely difficult for me, and I’m sure for all the other seniors as well, but I know that there’s the end of the school year right around the corner!”