UMN officials consider shortening deadline for incomplete work

Faculty and administrators are discussing revising the school’s policy for incomplete work.

Instructor Hyeryung Hwang helps a student during a group discussion in a University writing class in Lind Hall.

Image by Daily File Photo

Instructor Hyeryung Hwang helps a student during a group discussion in a University writing class in Lind Hall.

by Rilyn Eischens

To help improve graduation and retention rates, University of Minnesota administrators and faculty are considering shortening the deadline for incomplete coursework by six months.

Under the current policy, students have one year to finish work required to change incompletes, which are assigned instead of an “F” when students can’t finish coursework due to extraordinary circumstances. Faculty and officials have suggested that a tighter deadline would boost students’ motivation and keep coursework fresher in their memories.

Recent efforts around graduation and retention rates have prompted discussions with faculty and administrators about policy changes, said Stacey Tidball, director of continuity and compliance for the University’s Department of Academic Support Resources, who is running feedback sessions on the policy.

The one-year policy may discourage students from finishing the work on time to complete their degree in four years, she said.

So far, stakeholders are leaning towards shortening the period of time from one year to six months, Tidball said.

Michael Anderson, director of the University’s College of Continuing Education, said he’s noticed students have a harder time finishing incompletes after six months because they are removed from the coursework, or they get busy and forget about the makeup assignments.

“I think a lot of people operate the way I do. When the deadline for something comes, I start paying closer attention, and I’m much more motivated to get it done,” said Senate Educational Policy Committee chair Sue Wick. “It can be dangerous to let things go.”

The University’s administration has been examining equivalent policies at Big 10 schools as points of reference and found that colleges and universities have wide-ranging deadlines, Tidball said.

A few other schools, like Purdue University and Indiana University, give students a full year while the University of Wisconsin and University of Michigan require the work to be completed by the fourth week of the next term.

Shortening the timeframe could push students to complete coursework faster, Anderson said, but it’s important the policy is still flexible.

“You don’t want to give an incomplete to someone and then give a timeline where you can’t complete it,” he said.

Some instructors worry that shortening the period before an incomplete lapses into an “F” won’t give them enough time to prepare the necessary work in certain cases. For example, a student may have many labs to make up or an instructor might need to develop a new project, Tidball said.

But tests — which are frequently all a student needs to do in these situations — are relatively easy for most instructors to assemble, Wick said.

“If what’s to be made up is something like an exam, I just don’t see any reason why that has to be dragged out,” Wick said.

Additionally, faculty and administrators are discussing strengthening part of the policy that requires a written agreement between faculty and students that specifies the makeup work and deadline.

The committee should discuss what constitutes a written agreement, Anderson said.

When assigning final grades, some instructors notice that a student who would otherwise fail could qualify for an incomplete. In those cases, they wouldn’t have a contract in place, he said.

With situations like these, Anderson said the committee should determine whether an email counts as a written agreement.

Many instructors don’t adhere to the requirements for a written agreement, SCEP members said at a meeting last month. Tidball chalks this up to a lack of awareness of the rules among some faculty members, adding that many colleges and departments have their own standard contracts for tracking incompletes.

If there isn’t a written agreement, the situation becomes complicated if an instructor leaves the University before the student makes up the required work. This happens occasionally, Wick said.

“If the student doesn’t have in writing what’s expected, that leaves the student in the lurch,” she said. “They can say, ‘All I had to do was this final term paper,’ and everyone else says, ‘Well, how do we know that?’”