Success rates of ECC classes

This is the first an occasional series on the challenges of ECC classes.


Hannah Soukup

In fall 2022, ECC students earned at least a C about 85% of the time. For the most enrolled courses, those numbers varied.

Have you ever wondered what Elgin Community College’s success rates are for certain classes? Some highly-enrolled courses may have the reputation of being easy, but the data shows otherwise. If you can’t understand why your supposedly easy class is difficult to pass, you may not be alone.

The Observer is examining the success rates of the highest-enrolled classes at ECC. The data, provided by David Rudden, ECC managing director of institutional research, shows the top 14 highest enrolled courses at ECC in the fall 2022 semester. Success rates are defined as students who earned an A, B or C grade and did not withdraw. 

It’s worth noting that on the chart, “Total Enrollments” doesn’t include “# of Withdrawals,” and the “Withdrawal Rate” is determined by dividing “# of Withdrawals” from “Total Enrollments.” 

Many of these courses are taken to fulfill general education and degree requirements. Among these top 14 most enrolled courses, success rates ranged from 91% (meaning only 9% of students earned a D or F) to 64% (meaning 36% of students earned a D or F). The overall success rate in fall 2022 for all classes was 85%. 

Success and Withdrawal Rates of the 14 Highest-Enrolled Elgin Community College Courses in Fall 2022

Course Total Enrollments Success Rate in Course # of Withdrawals Withdrawal Rate
MUS-104 333 91% 25 7%
BIO-108 313 90% 45 14%
CMS-101 945 86% 79 8%
HUM-216 574 86% 77 13%
ENG-101 1,895 85% 190 10%
MTH-112 620 84% 83 13%
SOC-100 425 82% 55 13%
ART-115 349 82% 32 9%
PSY-100 1,019 82% 99 10%
ECN-201 362 81% 47 13%
ENG-102 754 78% 135 18%
BIO-110 424 75% 116 27%
MTH-102 370 70% 59 16%
BUS-100 301 64% 72 24%
All Courses 26,191 85% 3,103 12%

There is evidence of a negative correlation between the success and withdrawal rates, meaning that as the withdrawal rate increases, the success rate decreases. (Withdrawal rates are not factored into success rate calculations.) This seems to show that some classes, students both withdraw at a higher rate and also fail at a higher rate. 

To better understand why comes classes appear to be more challenging to students than others, Observer reporters spoke to professors and students around campus.

BIO-108 (Bio for Contemporary Society) and BIO-110 (Principles of Biology)

Biology 108 has the second highest success rate on the list at 90% and is 5% the average of all courses. Biology-110’s success rate, on the other hand, is 15% less than 108 and almost double the withdrawal rate.

The statistically “easier” courses at ECC does not mean those courses aren’t challenging.  First-year student Hailey Lakowski took Biology 108 and found it to be difficult. 

“I had Professor Vogt for BIO-108,” Lakowski said. “The class in general was really hard for me. I have trouble learning science. There’s a lot of information that you have to know. Vogt is a great professor. He provides us with all the resources we need and he’s also really good at instructing and helping us out if we need help.”

Course data is not applicable to all students and situations. A course may appear to be easy but a student may struggle more in that course compared to that of a “harder” course. Professors can assist students with their learning, but even with that, some students may struggle with the concepts within the course. 

“[BIO_108] is designed to keep one on their toes,” said Maleen Cabe, ECC biology professor. “Every week there’s a quiz (unless there’s an exam, then it’s an exam week). There are homework assignments for each chapter we cover. So, staying organized and on top of things is one key to success in my course. It does seem like a lot, but later the students realize how routine the assessments are. Once this is realized, then students find it easy to keep up.” 

Cabe understands the difficulty of the course and allows students to reach out if they need assistance and encourages any questions regarding the course. More difficult aspects of the course require students to take time on their own to study what they may not understand. Regardless of the accessibility the professors provide, students must take time to fully understand the material. 

“Some of the more complex science (mitosis, transcription and translation) do trip the students up a bit,” Cabe said. “Those concepts do take more than just memorizing to overcome the difficulty. I try to remedy this by providing real world applications related to these concepts so it isn’t such an arduous task to remember what is being taught during that unit.”

Biology-110 is geared towards science majors, so the students enrolled often have a better idea of the course material. Unlike Biology-108, 110 tends to be fast-paced and causes students to be self-sufficient. 

“I took [BIO-110] online over the summer, so it was shorter which made it much harder to [pass] and there was a lot to memorize,” said Allison Mcvey, second-year student at ECC majoring in science. “[Science] classes are 4 to 5 credits, so they’re higher stakes classes, and the teachers just need to be open with students [and understand] that they’re not gonna understand everything right away.”

MUS-104 (Musics of the World) and ART-115 (Art Appreciation)

MUS-104 tops the chart with a 91% success rate, while ART-115 stands at 82% to make a 9% difference, respectively.

“Only a small amount fail or withdraw [in my sections],” said Marc Beth, one of the professors for MUS-104. Beth teaches asynchronous sections, and designs them in a way that makes it easier to learn the course material.

Beth teaches asynchronous sections, and attributes the students’ reasons for failing/withdrawing to the lack of “face time” that students receive in in-person classes. To make up for it, he designed his online classes in a way that makes it easier for students to learn the course material.

“[I] take large and complex assignments and split them into their parts, each being a different task that can be completed in a short amount of time,” Beth said. “They can always sit down for 15 minutes and not only start something, but finish something. That way, the next time they sit down, they can start a new assignment fresh without having to remember where they were in their progress.”

Jeffrey Hallgren, ECC art professor, points out that the difference in success rates could stem from how much of an interest the student has in the course.

“People would succeed at any class in ECC [if they are] organized and they need to be attentive and concerned, but that’s with any class,” Hallgren said.

ART-115, taught by Hallgren, includes many forms of art. The first one he teaches, and the one he feels students are most invested in, is music.

“When was the last time you had listened to a piece of music? I daresay today, not very long ago,” Hallgren said. “You’re already prepared for some musical genres to talk to you, whether that would be rap or whatever. That’s an acquired taste. You have to really understand [rap and] let that into your life.”

Students may identify with music more, but Hallgren notes that art is all around us, and to succeed in ART-115 specifically, it helps to identify and appreciate the art around you.

ENG-101 and ENG-102

While some of the statistically “harder” courses at ECC may be challenging for some students, they don’t seem to challenge everyone. 

International student Bertrando Sinaga took both English 101 and English 102. Back in his hometown in Indonesia, he took English courses equivalent to AP courses. He found English 101 and English 102 to be similar to the prior courses he had taken. 

“[English] 101 was much simpler because the professors are more lenient,” Sinaga said. “They don’t expect us to fully grasp the proper MLA formatting and citations. In [English] 102, you have to make sure everything is on point. Overall, the classes are doable, especially because of my prior teachings. I know some of my classmates who struggle because schools nowadays don’t put enough emphasis on grammar and writing.” 

Sinaga had prior knowledge on these topics and was better equipped to complete the courses than other students. Some courses may be easier than others depending on how a student learns best. For example, English 102 has a withdrawal rate of 18%, but Sinaga succeeded in the course while his peers struggled. It appears that if a student has a solid understanding of the subject prior to taking the course, they may do better in it compared to a student who has not. 

Chasity Gunn, ECC assistant professor of English, advises students on how to better prioritize their English courses and how they can get through such courses successfully. Gunn values writing in her courses and wants students to put their best foot forward.

“Start early on assignments,” Gunn said. “Procrastinating or waiting until 1-2 days to complete the assignment is a recipe for anxiety and stress. College is a balancing act. You’ll be pulled into many directions, but you must remember you are the one who signed up for the class. It’s your responsibility to manage your time well so that all of your assignments are submitted on time and in excellence.” 

While many courses vary based on the professor teaching it, students often rely on Rate My Professor to pick out their professors. Professor reviews may be inaccurate depending on how long the professor has taught, where they have taught and certain sociocultural differences. Not every rating has the ability to accurately determine how well a professor can teach. 

“Rate My Professor doesn’t give you an accurate view of which professor’s class you should take,” Gunn said. “Also, the results are often racially-biased. Professors of color are often rated lower than their white professors.” 

BUS-100 (Introduction to Business)

Among the top 14 most-enrolled courses, Business 100 has the lowest success rate at 64% and a withdrawal rate of 24%. Clark Hallpike, ECC business professor who is one of the Business 100 instructors, provides context for what his sections are like.

“Everything you will encounter in business is covered in the class,” Hallpike said. “A lot of students are just taking it to figure out what business is all about, and so the commitment in the class might not be as strong as it should be.”

According to Hallpike, the way to succeed is to focus on deadlines and follow the syllabus.

“Very few students actually read the syllabus,”  Hallpike said. “I think that it’s a common concern that most professors have. I’m not sure why they don’t, because it takes about 15, 20 minutes to read the syllabus, but they think that they can get by without doing that.”

Hallpike  said he has a teaching method to make sure that students retain information in every class period.

“I have a quiz in every class, every time a class meets,” Hallpike said. “The quiz is about things I talk about that day, not necessarily things that are in the book. So this way, students are taking notes, and they know that if they miss a class period, that they’re gonna lose 20 points, so there is a greater likelihood that they will show up to class. I also allow them to use notes on the quizzes.”

The low success rate is made up for in the value students gain from the course, including the knowledge from all aspects of business, ability to take a lot of notes or the presentation at the end of the course about how to gain financial freedom with any job, according to Hallpike. 

“I take the position that 20 years from now, if they follow the guidance that I give them in that particular class, that they should be financially free, if they pay attention,” Hallpike said.

Want More Information?

At least one Illinois state school has publicly available data on grades for all course. Professor Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign went as far as to provide the GPA averages of every professor and course to the public.

This type of data can be received, either by requesting the specific information through your college or a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) Request.