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Three days enough time to figure out if a class is a bad fit?

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What happens to Mercer students who discover in the early weeks of the semester that a class doesn’t suit their needs or a specific professor isn’t a good fit? Anyone who has ever sat in a Mercer classroom for a semester knows that some students simply vanish after a while, they may give up on the class or on college altogether. When they do leave part way through the semester, they do not get a refund.

At Mercer it is possible for students to withdraw and get their money back, but only if they do so within three days of the start of class. This time limit is up from the 24 hour withdrawal policy that held as recently as three years ago.

All colleges limit the amount of time a student has to withdraw from a course and get a refund, the reason being that it doesn’t make sense to get several months worth of education only to skip out at the last minute and get your money back. This would be a financially devastating move for any college. As Robin Schore, Dean of Liberal Arts, said “It’s like ordering a meal at a restaurant, eating a bit of the sandwich, a few fries and asking for your money back.”

For community colleges, with commuter populations who pay by the course (unlike students at many four-year colleges, who pay by the year or semester), deadlines to withdraw and get a refund are generally fairly short. For example, Bergen Community College allows students to receive a full refund up to the end of the first week of the semester.

The three day withdrawal deadline, while an improvement over the 24 hour system, still appears to be proving troublesome for quite a few students.

In a recent VOICE survey Mercer students were asked if they were aware of the three day withdrawal deadline. The majority of the respondents, 24 out of 30 were, in fact, aware of the deadline, suggesting that Mercer has done an adequate job of informing the student body of the time limits.

But an even larger majority, 26 out of the 30 respondents, indicated that they felt three days was not enough time to determine if they needed to withdraw from a class. This appears to be especially true for those who take night classes that meet only once a week, as these students only have one class session to determine if a withdrawal is the right option.

When survey respondents were asked how long they felt the college should allow for students to make a withdrawal decision, the most common answer was one week. The one week idea is not that different than the current policy, as many classes meet twice a week and a substantial portion meet twice in three days. It would not give more classroom time to those taking a once a week class, but it would offer additional time to those with, say, a Monday/Friday class. In all cases, having seven days as opposed to three would allow more time to contemplate the decision before acting. The majority of the survey respondents indicated that this was necessary.

Half of those surveyed stated they had been negatively affected by the three day withdrawal deadline at some point.

Parker Harris, a Theater Major in his fifth year said, “The way I see it, Mercer has found a way to legally and conveniently take our tuition money as fast as possible. Though the circumstances were indeed grim, I do feel as though I could have educated myself a little more about the withdrawal policy, if the information was more readily available.”

Dr. Diane Campbell, the Dean of Students, said of the situation, “We’ve gone through several transitions with this. This is really important because a lot of students don’t know that if they have financial aid, they’re going to have to pay for that class, unless they withdraw before a certain time. So we’re trying to discourage students from withdrawing, we want them to go get help, find someone who can help them get through the class or talk to their professor more, their adviser, their counselor. We’re finding that a lot of students are getting in trouble and then they have a debt that they can’t meet and it becomes a barrier forever.”

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