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Is the grading policy for spring 2020 “satisfactory plus?”

When students receive their transcripts at the end of this spring semester, they might be seeing more letters of the alphabet than usual. PLNU announced earlier this month that the university would be implementing an optional three-tiered credit/no credit policy in an effort to offset the unexpected stress of the coronavirus pandemic.

PLNU Provost and Chief Academic Officer Kerry Fulcher sent an email to the student body on April 9 explaining that “PLNU has been working to ensure students successfully complete the spring semester, maintain academic progress, and achieve graduation plans.” The strategy of the staff and  administration includes the credit/no credit decision, Fulcher’s email said.

Ben Cater, associate dean of foundational explorations (general education), said he was one of the first to bring up the idea of an alternative grading policy to the administration. Cater said he sent a note to Fulcher a week after spring break suggesting PLNU consider a credit/no credit option after seeing other universities respond to the transition with similar solutions.

According to Fulcher’s email, the three tiers of the new grading policy include SP (“satisfactory plus”), S (“satisfactory”) and U (“unsatisfactory”). An SP grade would replace an A, B or C, earning the student credit for the course and satisfying all prerequisites for following courses. S would replace a C- to a D- earning credit, but not fulfilling prerequisites. U would not result in course credit. None of the credit/no credit options would affect students’ GPA. Students will be able to decide if they want to implement this grading system in each individual class after receiving a final, traditional letter grade from their professors. 

Karl Martin, professor of American literature, first learned about the proposal in a faculty meeting in early April, where his colleagues presented multiple options and various dimensions for a special grading policy, Martin said. They discussed the types of courses that would allow a credit/no credit option, whether or not students could opt for credit/no credit after seeing final grades, and if the system would have two tiers or three. Martin voted for the proposal the school adopted.

According to Cater, the three-tiered system allows students who are doing well to reflect that on their transcript, but it allows students who have a good GPA but are struggling due to the situation to preserve their grades. 

In a time when people are swarmed by uncertainty and feelings of powerlessness, Martin said he hopes the credit/no credit policy “will provide students with a sense that they have a great deal of control concerning how their academic work this semester will be evaluated.

“Students face a very uneven playing field at the moment,” Martin said. “Some are in quite stable environments with great wifi access while others are in very unsettled, perhaps even chaotic home environments.”

Cater also expressed his concern for students who are still working while finishing out the semester online.

“A lot of students have parents who might have lost their jobs, so they are having to pick up the slack to bring money in,” Cater said. “That complicates things.”

Senior history major Christine Abrell said she is in favor of the decision for the sake of the greater PLNU community.

“I think it’s important to think about others in the community who may be severely affected by this in a variety of ways,” Abrell said in a text to The Point. “Even if this isn’t particularly needed or helpful for you, there are some people for whom this will make a world of difference!”

Lucie Gillette, senior French major, said she was also appreciative of the new grading policy.

“The Point Loma faculty was gracious to implement the new optional grading system,” Gillette said in a text to The Point. “I appreciate the fact that a student can choose whether to opt in at the end of the semester after grades are posted. This gives us the most amount of flexibility and choice depending on the outcome of a class.”

Some students, however, are skeptical about how helpful or effective this policy will be. Jillian Axton, sophomore Education major, expressed some of her concerns.

“I know a lot of us are still working really hard to keep or improve our grades and I think that our hard work should be reflected on our transcripts,” Axton said via text. “For some of us, pass/fail for some courses is not an option because of credentialing or degree requirements. I think that the faculty felt pressured by other universities to allow pass/fail to be shown on transcripts.

For students wondering how opting for a credit/no credit grade will affect the future of their education and career, Cater said they shouldn’t be too concerned — especially about graduate school.

“The purpose of us instituting this policy is to help students manage the logistical, intellectual, and emotional challenges this pandemic has caused,” Cater said. 

Cater said he projects that most graduate schools will understand that this is an extraordinary situation. 

According to Cater, “numbers reveal, but they also obscure,” which means that GPA isn’t everything for getting into grad school. He said that letters of recommendation are far more important, so students shouldn’t stress about the letters that appear on their transcripts at the end of spring.