Three “Takes” of a Course: Limiting Withdrawals and Repetition to Alleviate Substandard Grades

Vice President

Earning a passing grade in a course on the first or second try is now more important than ever. The Board of Governors recently approved new regulations that limit repetition and withdrawal per student per course per district. All students will be limited to three “takes” of a course—whether repeating to alleviate a substandard grade or withdrawing, and whether new or continuing. The college will be funded for only three official enrollments in the course1. To see the final version of the new language for Title 5, please go to and access the document “Apportionment Limits for Credit Course Enrollment Repetition and Withdrawal.” It is expected that these changes will go into effect Spring 2012. Students will not be “grandfathered” when the regulations are implemented, meaning that any previous official enrollments will count toward the total of three allowable takes per course.

Students may be allowed three plus one “takes” of the course if, on an appeal basis, a student needs to repeat a course due to a significant lapse of time since it was last taken, or when there are specific extenuating circumstances such as flood, fire, or other extraordinary conditions beyond the student’s control. Districts may allow more repeats, but there will not be apportionment provided for any additional “takes” beyond the three (plus one) now allowed. This change necessitates a culture shift for counselors and other faculty, students, and everyone at the college who sees students struggle to complete courses for any reason. Such a momentous change to current practice will require an equally momentous communication to everyone involved and consideration of interventions to improve success.

The reasons behind the change include increasing access for students, focusing more on student success, reducing the cost incurred from students retaking the same course many times without successfully completing it, and recognizing a political climate that sees the system as inefficient when students can retake a course up to six or more times on the taxpayer dime. Because of the budget situation, many districts have already self-imposed a similar limit to the number of times a student can take a course. All districts will now have to modify catalogs, programming, and college messages to students to ensure that apportionment is only collected for three official enrollments. Colleges may allow students additional attempts at a course, but the cost must be absorbed by the college.

For faculty, the greatest reason for such a change is to encourage students to complete a course on the first try. As senates consider this change and how it affects students and faculty, here are some ideas to consider:

  • Assessment for placement becomes more critical. Placing students in the appropriate course for their skill level must be a priority. Students must have every possible chance to succeed in a course on the first try.
  • Prerequisites are essential. And until content review and curriculum processes can be fully implemented, messages to students about the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in courses should be provided to students at every opportunity.
  • Counseling and advising to students must change. Many faculty encourage students to drop a course or retake it in the summer or provide some other counsel that has seemed wise in the past. Now the message to students depends on how many times they have already taken a course. If the student already took the course once and failed, then the message to the student on the second try will be different and passing the course becomes more urgent.
  • Additional interventions to promote student success need to be created and implemented as soon as possible.
  • Petition processes for students to seek a fourth official enrollment in the course need to be created where they do not currently exist.
  • The first week or two of the term become a keen opportunity for faculty to speak with students about goals and intentions. If a student is five months pregnant at the beginning of the course, is it realistic to believe she can successfully complete a semester long course?
  • Faculty may want to incorporate some form of early assessment so that students who are not likely to succeed have feedback prior to the last date to drop without W.
  • Should faculty be privy to the number of times a student has already taken the course? Should there be an identifier or number for each student on the class roster? Will this create profiling by faculty?
  • Establish and publicize guidelines for successful scheduling of courses, such as leaving an open hour before or after a class for study and preparation time. While many students structure a schedule with as many units as possible in as few days as possible, it may be best to limit a student’s units or scheduling options for the second or third take of a course.
  • Require students to see a counselor after the first failure or withdrawal.


When students are unsuccessful in a first attempt at a course, how invasive should the actions of the college be when a student considers his or her next attempt? Because colleges pride themselves on offering course sections in different formats to allow learners of all types to find success, students should be able to repeat the course with a different teacher, delivery, or instructional method when the first attempt ended unsuccessfully. If a student took the course Mondays and Wednesdays during the last attempt, then for the next attempt he or she might be directed to take the course three or more days per week. Some course sections are offered with computer mediated or aided instruction. When a student fails in a “traditional” course, maybe he or she should be advised to take the course with the computer component the next time. Or, if the student took the course in a distance education format the first time, colleges may want to discuss limiting the student to a face-to-face course on the second try.

Required tutoring or visits to office hours may also be a consideration for students on the second or third try at a course. How students schedule their courses throughout a day or how many units they attempt during a term all affect student success. Asking students to leave an hour before or after a math class, for instance, will allow the student time to prepare for class or begin homework immediately while the information is still fresh. Developmental educators will have many other good ideas for ways to create better opportunities for student success.

Time will be short to communicate with everyone about this change, and all faculty will need to be informed about options for advising students, the petition process, and intervention strategies. Some of those strategies and options will be college actions, and some may be developed by departments or discipline faculty. Local senates may want to consider common language for syllabi. The common message could be a college-wide message, or it could be specific to departments. One positive outcome of asking everyone to include the same message in syllabi is that colleges can reach out to part time faculty who may not be in the loop about this significant change and how the college has decided to approach it.

The new Title 5 changes will challenge faculty to really examine how to help students pass a course the first time. Neither faculty nor students have the luxury to think “oh well, just take the course again later.” All energy needs to be directed to helping students find success in a course, including some very strong directions to students, and faculty have the opportunity to help students become more realistic and committed to passing every course.

1 An official enrollment is understood to be the recording of a grade (A, B, C, D, F, including + or – grades where they exist, P or NP, or for returning students, C or NC), W or FW on the student’s transcript.