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Approved by the Mānoa Faculty Senate on April 20, 2011

Supporting Documents

Date Document & Link Committee
April 20, 2011 GEC Powerpoint provided at April Senate meeting GEC




Several highly-enrolled undergraduate courses have been identified as being very challenging because of the subject matter, course delivery, and grading employed by the instructors. Since a grade of C or better is often required to satisfy prerequisite or major requirements, grades of D or F (in some cases, W or I) prevent students from progressing in their chosen academic paths. Many courses have had DFWI rates as high as 50% in one or more semesters, affecting the progress of hundreds of students.


  • To examine the prevalence of high-failure courses, especially in highly-enrolled undergraduate courses.
  • To determine the extent to which the problem persists within certain departments.
  • To seek input from faculty and students on problems and potential solutions.
  • To make recommendations to the Manoa Faculty Senate, VCAA, deans, directors, and to departments to
  • address the problem.


  • Formed a Manoa Faculty Senate working group with members from the Committee of Academic Policy and Planning (CAPP), General Education Committee (GEC), and the Manoa Assessment Committee (MAC) (Oct 2010).
  • Held several meetings with the Manoa Institutional Research Office (MIRO) to examine grades for courses over 5 years (10 semesters) from Fall 2005-Spr 2010 (Oct-Dec 2010).
  • Identified 28 general education courses with greater than 25% DFWI occurring in at least 50% of the previous 10 semesters (Dec 2010).
  • Targeted the 5 departments affecting the largest number of students; these were: Chemistry, Mathematics, Philosophy, Psychology, and Natural Resources & Environmental Management. Met with those department chairs and selected faculty or instructors to solicit their perspectives (Jan-Feb 2011).
  • Conducted an online survey of students from selected courses for student views (Mar 2011).
  • Held 4 small group meetings with undergraduate advisors and presented to the Council on Academic Advisors in attempting to solicit student perspectives (March 2011).

General findings:

  • There are varied reasons given for failures, dropouts and withdrawals. In some cases, the students are not prepared for the rigor and demands of certain courses. There appears to be a disconnection between what students want to major in and their ability to meet the course demands.
  • Freshmen (and Sophomores to a lesser extent) have poor time-management skills. Many students do not do homework unless it is graded and worth a significant part of the overall grade. However, grading homework for most large lecture classes would require increased TA support or utilization of web-based homework systems.
  • Students often stay in a course even when they are failing because they need to be enrolled as full time for financial aid, medical insurance, military benefits, housing, and/or parental pressure.
  • Some courses like Psych 100, Ethnic Studies 101, Music 477 are offered in online delivery mode that students might not be sufficiently equipped to navigate.
  • Departments were aware of the high failures in certain courses but have felt constrained in their response to student needs due to a shortage of faculty and teaching assistants, brought on by recent budget cuts, retirements, and hiring freezes. The results of this have lead to fewer class offerings and larger class sizes.
  • However, departments have made adjustments especially when students are struggling. For example, Nursing has changed its requirements; Psychology has made adjustments to the unit mastery course, the core necessary for Psych majors; Philosophy has a new instructor teaching Phil 110-111 and that appears to have made a difference in grading. ICS 141 (Discrete Math for Computer Science) is taught by two faculty members and there are now recitation sections for it.

Suggestions and campuswide recommendations:

  1. The Manoa Faculty Senate should conduct a systematic review of these high failure courses every three years in order to keep focus on student success and achievement. Input from departments, faculty, advisors, and students should be solicited regularly as well. The grade distribution for every course in each department should be made available to that department for informational purposes and action where necessary.
  2. Mandatory advising started in Fall 2008 has been helpful but there are only 4 advisors at the undergraduate level to support undeclared first-time students, especially those first generation, commuter, and at-risk students. More advisors are needed.
  3. An orientation for new incoming students (transfers as well as freshmen) needs to be made mandatory and available free of charge (perhaps at the first week of classes) so that everyone will be sufficiently prepared for the rigors of college life.
  4. Administration needs to provide fiscal, personnel and other resources to departments that offer courses (e.g., Math 100, 140, Chem 161-162) that serve all students across disciplines and colleges.
  5. Departments with large lecture classes should be provided with resources to offer recitation, tutorial and/or lab sections that will enable students to have more contact with instructional support.
  6. Additional faculty support on course delivery (especially for teaching large lecture sections) should be offered through OFDAS. Departments with high-fail courses should take advantage of the services provided by the Manoa Assessment Office.
  7. Administration should examine how much of the high DFWI rates are attributable to students who were accepted below the guaranteed admission standards