Many of us are guilty of putting off beginning or working on a project. When college students procrastinate on their coursework, it can really have damaging consequences for their grades and college careers.

Instructors can help students avoid failing grades by using new data from a novel study conducted in 2020 by the University of Pennsylvania and McGraw Hill, “A Procrastination Index for Online Learning Based on Assignment Start Time.”  

One look at the study data shows worrisome evidence that students who start assignments late will likely receive a poor grade and be at risk for failing a course. The good news is that instructors can take the key learnings from these data as a reason to get more involved with students while teaching the course and help them avoid procrastination and failing grades.

Learn more about driving results in your classroom with the latest data. 

Let’s be honest; we know that students often procrastinate on their coursework. They procrastinate for many reasons like lack of self-discipline, the balance between school and home life, feeling anxiety, or experiencing depression. However, this shouldn’t mean they are beyond the help of their instructor, fail the course, or receive poor grades. 

You might be thinking that studying college student procrastination is old news. It kind of is. However, most published studies use historical, self-reported data from students like whether they hand in an assignment late or the time they spent to complete an assignment.

So, what’s different about the new data from the University of Pennsylvania and McGraw Hill?

It’s that it hones in on procrastination as a student behavior and uses it to predict course performance by using data from when students started an assignment and the grade they received.  

Researchers developed a Learner Procrastination Index (PI), a new way to estimate students’ tendency to procrastinate, by analyzing when students start their assignments as compared to other students within the same course. Then, using an average of these early and delayed starts in the course with their course grades gives us a Procrastination Index, a tendency of students to procrastinate.

What’s new is that the PI can fairly and accurately identify those who may perform poorly in the course. For example: 

  • Students who started on average in the first three quartiles of students to start an assignment avoided poor performance on that assignment.  These students have a low PI.
  • Students with PI less than 5 percent of the time received an A grade and those under 20 percent had above a B average. Essentially a student who started late (procrastinated) on 1 in 20 assignments received an A grade, and those who procrastinated 1 in 5 times or fewer, received a B grade.
  • Worse, course grades increasingly dropped off when students started an assignment after three quartiles of the students on more than 50 percent of the homework. And what’s even worse, those students who procrastinated 95 percent of the time tended to obtain a D or F.  

What should we make of all this?

The answer is straightforward. Instructors can take extra steps to help procrastinating students before it becomes too late.

  • Remind students not to delay starting assignments and look for early warning signs of procrastination such as students struggling or showing apathy with coursework.
  • Ask students to notify you when they start assignments or have them develop and share with you a timeline/work plan for accomplishing their work.
  • Stay on top of things by checking in with them often on their progress.

Procrastination among college students is a common thing. College instructors can take advantage of the new information from the PI study and use it to take action to help those delaying their coursework and help prevent them from being at risk for poor grades.  


Find more tips to get involved and help students avoid poor performance due to procrastination.