Column: Should ASU Expand the Pass/Fail Option


Cullen Davis, Viewpoints Editor

COVID-19 undoubtedly brought unforeseen changes to the academic world when it arrived nearly a year ago. The drastic shift from in-person to virtual learning was not an easy transition for students, professors or the staff. However, to make the transition smooth, many universities and community colleges adopted a pass/fail option for the spring 2020 semester. 

The option allowed students to decide which classes they wanted to be marked with “pass/fail” instead of the traditional letter grade. This provided a safety net for students who had a hard time adjusting to the pandemic and changes brought thereof, but fast forward to the present and we are still in a pandemic. We are still forced to learn in an unconventional learning environment. So, why is this pass/fail opportunity not available during this semester if the circumstances are the same?

According to Alabama State University’s policy on the issue, the pass/fail option was only approved for the spring 2020 term. “Due to the challenges brought about due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the spring 2020 semester, students will have the option of selecting a Pass/Not Pass grading method instead of the standard letter grade method.” But why was this limited to the spring 2020 term when the current term is the same? 

Learning is primarily virtual now. The common point of view is that some students, staff and faculty are on campus. Many come under the impression that everyone returned to campus, but that is not the case. There is still a large number of students who are remote this semester. This emphasizes the ignored fact that many are not in suitable learning environments; being at home, not having the best technical equipment, not having suitable quiet locations, etc. 

Those that are on campus still face hardships with virtual learning. There are many majors and programs which benefit the best with hands-on learning and teaching. Some of those programs include Art, Agriculture, Engineering, and Nursing. Art students have stated it is hard to get feedback and create the best work virtually. Nursing students feel they cannot get a true sense of the human body in their lab courses without the in-person lectures. 

If the goal is to graduate, why are in-person classes not being considered? This generation of students now run the risk of lowering their GPA in an unfamiliar learning environment at no fault of their own. Instead, they should at least get the credit and remain on the correct track for their coursework.

 Across the nation, various institutions have become flexible with their academic policies because of the changes. North Dakota State University, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Penn State University, and the University of Michigan have all extended their pass/fail option to the fall and spring semesters for the 2020-2021 school year, with the latter adopting a new academic policy due to COVID-19. 

There is much backlash due to many institutions deciding not to adopt a similar policy until further notice. Collegiate presidents and deans believe this option will hurt students. Some feel that selecting this option will not change students’ GPA, but instead only award credit. Their opinion is, “It will affect everything from scholarship eligibility to post-grad education.” They further claim, “Withdrawing from a course will better assist students who struggle academically because of the pandemic in fall 2020.” 

However, this goes back to the main issue. Some majors and programs have key courses that cannot be dropped to obtain the degree. This forces students in a difficult online course and face risking their GPA declining to stay in the program.

The main point missed is that this opportunity is not mandatory, it is an option. Students can decide if it is best for them after meeting with academic advisers. They should first be given the opportunity. If a student has satisfactory grades, they will not have to select this option. Those with unsatisfactory grades due to difficulties during this pandemic should not be punished. Especially, since it is an inequitable one. We will be noted as the rare generation that dealt with this compared to the ones that came before us. Flexibility should not be something we have to beg for.