University of Virginia students will get to choose whether they take courses for credit or letters in both the upcoming January term and spring term courses, continuing a policy from the fall term.
UVa Provost Liz Magill sent a message to students Monday night to tell them that, in the face of the pandemic, the school will extend the grading policy used for the fall term for both upcoming terms.
The system allows students to choose whether to take classes for letter grades, which impact overall grade point averages, or for credit/general credit/no credit, which will not impact averages.
Last spring, the university switched students to the credit/no credit program when students were sent home and classes switched to online. Fall term started with students facing traditional letter grade courses, but administrators brought back the credit/no credit system after students petitioned for it.
Students must choose the credit-based grading system when enrolling in the month-long January, or J-term, classes. If they don’t, the default grade system will be letter grades.
Registration began on Monday. Classes begin Jan. 4.
“As was the case with our decision about the fall grading option, there were many factors that influenced our thought process,” Magill said in the letter. “Ultimately, we sought to balance serious concerns raised by students, faculty, and staff about the effects of this pandemic on many of our students, while at the same time honoring the views of those students and faculty who seek to give or receive standard grades.”
Courses taken for credit will count toward curricular, academic major and graduation requirements. Magill said the credit grading system will not prevent students from applying for particular academic programs, research-intensive programs or transferring between schools in the university. Schools may not use the number of classes taken on a for-credit basis or grade point averages as sole reasons for admitting or denying admission to a student.
There is a ‘but,’ however.
“Students should be mindful of other potential implications of selecting or not selecting a [credit basis] grade in some or all of their classes,” Magill wrote. “For instance, students who need to increase their GPA for graduation purposes or to remain eligible for financial aid should factor that into their decision.”
Magill said those graduate programs that offered the credit-based grades in the fall term will also offer them for J-term and spring term. Professional schools will announce their decisions later.
For undergraduate students who opt into the credit grading, a credit received, or CR, will be given for meeting class requirements, which is the equivalent of a C-grade or above.
General credit, or GC, will be given to students who pass a class with less than a C and no credit, or NC, will be given for the equivalent of an F-letter grade.
UVa officials made the switch from all-letter grades to the combination of either this fall after students signed petitions and presented surveys showing that a significant number of students were having difficulty dealing with changes both at school and in the community related to COVID-19.
At the time, Magill said the change was made to an optional credit-based grade system “after many exchanges with students, student leaders, and faculty and staff who work most closely with students.”
UVa’s Student Council conducted a survey of students prior to the fall term and found that 96.7% of respondents faced barriers to learning in the spring term and that almost 70% expected similar barriers to surface in the fall.
The survey listed 14 specific barriers to learning that students may face, including trouble focusing on school when studying off-grounds; poor internet connectivity; difficulty learning via Zoom and other virtual class methods; lack of a suitable study place at home; family relationships; and financial insecurity as well as loneliness and other mental health issues.
“Based on our survey, students with no barriers to learning prefer a regular grading system, while students with barriers to learning are the most likely to support the default [credit-based] system with opt-in letter grades,” the study states.
The study showed just short of 80% of students said they had difficulty focusing when living off-Grounds or away from school and that it could be a barrier to learning and Zoom and other virtual networks were difficult for 77.6% of students.
Only 11.6% of survey respondents indicated that the credit-based system hampered their motivation.
The survey showed about 3% of students said they found no barriers to learning during the spring term and more than half of those said they preferred the letter-grade system. Of those who faced all of the barriers listed in the survey, most preferred the option of either credit-based and letter-based grades.
“Students who indicated that they faced no barriers to learning were far more likely to opt-in to all or mostly letter grades, and were far more likely to be satisfied with their choice [of letter grades],” the survey states. “On the other hand, students who faced all 14 of the predefined barriers were far more split in their selection of grading system.”