Every semester during course selection, students are faced with a difficult yet necessary task: deciding on only four or five classes. Even with four years, it’s difficult to take all classes of interest while trying to balance distribution requirements, prerequisites and departmental courses. Thus like many other institutions, the University allows students to audit courses, which are reflected on the transcript by “AUD.” While the official audit policy requires “successfully pass[ing] the final exam or complet[ing] some major component of the course,” professors and departments do not enforce this uniformly. Some professors give audit credit for only attending lecture while others require completion of all components of the course. The Board believes that while auditing can clearly enrich a liberal arts education, current audit rates at Princeton are too low. In order to make the system more clear and accessible, the University should standardize course audits by requiring either a minimum attendance rate of 85 percent or a passing grade on the final exam/paper.
At a school like Princeton in which many courses have a heavy workload, auditing can be a solution for those who want to take interesting courses without pressure. Unlike pass/D/fail courses, failure in an audited course will not show up on the transcript. However, while it seems like a great opportunity for students who wish to learn beyond the minimum course requirements and receive recognition, audit statistics are shockingly low. For the Class of 2014, less than 5 percent have audited at least one course. This past fall semester, there were only 14 audits by all undergraduate students.
A standardized and enforced system would encourage more auditing. Clear and uniform guidelines would increase awareness about the auditing system among all students. In addition, by uniformly eliminating final examinations (if the attendance is 85 percent), students will not see auditing a fifth or sixth class as an overwhelming time commitment and will be more likely to audit. As for those who cannot make all the lectures, the option to take a final still exists. Thus, the proposed standardized audit system recognizes those who have truly engaged with the course material.
Yet there is still the question of confirming attendance. While some professors use sign-in sheets or call names at the beginning of class, it is difficult to keep track of attendance in larger classes. A possibility is using clickers, a technology that is already being used by some classes at the University. The Educational Technologies Center at the McGraw Center is able to equip and train faculty members who want to use technologies like clickers or Piazza. Piazza serves as an alternative to physical clickers since it simply requires students and faculty to create online accounts. The program can then be used to track attendance or facilitate responses to questions asked by the professor.
As a great way to explore new interests, auditing can greatly add to a liberal arts education. However, without clear and enforced guidelines, the University’s auditing system fails to engage students. The Board believes that by standardizing the auditing system, more students would be encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity.