by, Christine Nappi and Jilleen Barrett, Features Editor and Asst. A&E editor
Manhattan College announced on March 27 in an email to students that they will have the option to receive a pass or fail grade, rather than a letter grade for the spring 2020 semester. This decision was made to accommodate students as they transition to online classes for the rest of the semester due to COVID-19.
The announcement was released by Provost and Executive Vice President William Clyde, Ph.D., after the administration collaborated with the student government to meet the needs of the student body.
“Given where we are and the situation that we’re all in right now, the primary goal, and maybe the only goal, relative to learning is to be able to allow the students to learn what they need to learn in this new environment,” Clyde said. “It seemed clear that the anxiety related to grades was getting in the way of students focusing on learning, so removing that fear, removing that anxiety, seemed important and valuable.”
The grade that a student would receive with the pass/fail system depends on their letter grade in a class. If a grade is better than a C, it would be a High Pass (HP). If it is below a C but above an F, it is a Low Pass (LP). If the grade is a failure, it would not be put towards their graduation requirements. Any classes that are converted to pass/fail will not be counted when calculating GPAs.
Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors will be able to choose one of these options after final grades are published and before June 1, 2020. Graduating seniors will have until May 15. The email also states that students will be able to convert the grades from pass/fail to letters before graduation through self-service – but once transcripts are finalized, they cannot be amended. In addition to regular courses, summer courses in 2020 will also follow the pass/fail system.
The administration and the student government worked to provide many options for students, after getting a consensus on the topic from the student body via survey.
“Something that the student government wanted to emphasize is that the hope was to make this grading policy as flexible and equitable as possible, giving all students, regardless of their major, the freedom to choose to display letter grades or high pass/low pass on their transcript,” Student Body President, Kaylyn Atkins said.
Although it may be challenging for some to discern what grading system is best for them, the wide array of options for students is meant to help decrease their stress, allowing them to focus on learning, Clyde describes.
“We tried to make it that it really gives students plenty of options,” Clyde said. “It reduces the anxiety, and yet if they feel like later on they made the wrong decision, they can fix it.”
The student government began to address the pass/fail option after noticing other universities across the nation transition to this system. Atkins developed a survey to gather student opinions which ranged from being for and against pass/fail. From there, the student government drafted a proposal to meet the needs of all students and presented it to Clyde, who then accepted it and relayed the message to the rest of the college.
“I don’t think it’s fair to require a pass/fail grading system, but rather give students the freedom and opportunity to go that route if they believe it’s best for them,” Atkins said. “[We made] our pass/fail system optional and on a class-by-class basis. Students have the option to choose if they want one, a couple, all or none of their classes to be pass/fail which is different from some other colleges in the country who have switched to pass/fail.”
Although the pass/fail grading system can be helpful, survey results show how students express concern that this may be frowned upon by honor societies, graduate school programs and future employers. The email states that students should consider this before making any final decisions.
Atkins, who plans to pursue a law degree, describes that in her experience, many admissions counselors will be understanding if a student opts for pass/fail.
“The admissions team is aware that this semester was like no other,” Atkins said. “Additionally, due to the fact that most colleges [and] universities across the country have adopted some form of a pass/fail system, this will not taint a specific student’s application in any way.”
Johanna Gavigan, a sophomore mechanical engineer, has experienced mixed feelings about the change in grading.
“As an engineering student, pass/fail is a great thing for some of the harder classes… if that meant it wouldn’t hurt our GPA,” Gavigan said. “The issue comes where if an employer looks at your transcript, they might question why there aren’t specific letter grades during this time, and why a student chose to opt for pass/fail.”
She added that she feels the policy is just and that the provost went about instating it correctly.
“I think MC opted for pass/fail because they want the students to be focused on learning the material rather than having to worry about getting a good grade,” Gavigan said. “I also think they understand how stressful and sad of a time this is for some people, especially in the New York, New Jersey areas.”
Atkins describes that part of the reason why the college wanted to give this option to students was to accommodate those who may not be adequately equipped to finish their semester from home.
“I felt as though many students are not on an equal playing field when it comes to attempting to focus on schoolwork and not having access to technology, the best WiFi and/or live in a household that constantly demands your attention,” Atkins said. “Therefore, providing an alternative that could help instead of harm a student’s GPA is why I advocated so much for it.”
If students are unsure if they should opt for pass/fail, Clyde recommends they focus on learning and reevaluate after seeing their grades. He encourages students to speak with advisors and officers of career pathways to see which option will help them best achieve their academic goals.
“I know it’s a challenging, different environment and the truth is, when you get out in the world, you’re going to be expected to learn on your own from online resources anyway,” Clyde said. “In some sense, this is preparing you for something that the world is going to expect of you when you go out. But, I still understand it’s a really challenging situation for you, for the faculty for everybody. Do the best you can to learn all you can.”