The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday September 21st

Students' opinions are divided on the University's new pass/fail grading policy

<p>DTH Photo Illustration. With remote learning continuing and in-person classes posing a potential risk of exposure to COVID-19, many UNC students are electing to underload classes this semester.</p>
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. UNC's decision to allow students to pass/fail their Fall 2020 courses poses a new set of questions for students to answer before making the decision to pass/fail a class.

UNC announced the expansion of an emergency pass/fail grading policy for undergraduate courses on Aug. 27. Now, students must decide whether or not to use this option. 

“I feel like there should be a limit to how many classes they can pass/fail, but it’s a good option to have if it is done in moderation," first-year nursing major Eli Mayfield said. 

Mayfield said he thinks pass/fail is a good option for general education courses, but he wouldn't use it for classes required for his major. 

Other students disagree about the necessity of a pass/fail option, while some have concerns about its new "low pass" distinction. Some students are eager to pass/fail their classes, while others are worried about how choosing this option could affect their postgraduate opportunities. Here's a rundown of how students feel about the new policy. 

Taking the pass/fail route

Addison Powers, a business administration major, said he is leaning toward not using the pass/fail option this semester. But he said he likes having it just in case.

“The only worry I have though, is how will making any of my classes pass/fail affect my application into the Kenan-Flagler Business School?" Powers asked. "As a freshman, I want to build a solid GPA, so we’ll see what I decide to do in November.”

Mayfield also raised concerns over whether students will put as much effort into their classes.

“In my interactions with some students, they admit they’ll just pass/fail their classes even though they’ve barely even started the class and haven’t done any meaningful assignments yet,” Mayfield said. 

Hampton Simms, a junior majoring in economics, said his work and motivation were affected by the availability of the pass/fail option in the spring. 

“I feel like compared to the spring semester, the University doesn’t need the pass/fail option as much as they needed it then, and the University needs to uphold academic standards," Simms said.

Some students believe the benefits of the pass/fail option outweigh any potential issues that might arise with its usage. Vanessa Mesmer, a junior majoring in biology and neuroscience, said she was excited about having the option to pass/fail her classes because of the unpredictability of 2020. 

Mesmer said she thinks the pass/fail option is needed for fall 2020, with many students living at home. 

"A lot of people have different circumstances at home and it’s harder to study and work at home whereas on-campus, I can just go to the library," Mesmer said. "And I’m sure others have even more troubling home lives than me, so they’ll benefit from it even more."

The low pass

The pass/fail option includes a low pass qualification as well. According to the Office of the University Registrar, letter grades of A to C will be labeled as pass, while letter grades of C- and D will be labeled as low pass, if students wish to use this option. 

Low pass courses can be counted toward semester hours, but cannot be used for prerequisite classes that require a minimum grade of C or for graduation requirements. 

“I feel as though it rewards those who earned a higher grade, so yes, I think it makes grading fairer,” Powers said.

Mayfield said the low pass option gives additional information about how hard a student worked in the class, which makes the system more fair.

Jewell Caputa, a first-year environmental science major, said she is concerned that the optionality of the new grading system might put some students at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for postgraduate opportunities.

“I think it'll look bad compared to someone who took a letter grade," Caputa said. "This sucks because the pass/fail is supposed to serve as a cushion for those who have unstable home environments such as poor internet connection, loud households and stuff of that nature."

Michelle Brown, assistant provost and director of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, spoke about the low pass option during Thursday's Faculty Athletics Committee meeting.

Brown said having a low pass on a student's transcript is not ideal, since students don't tend to take a pass if they're getting an A or B in a class. Brown said this conversation should continue as the semester continues.

“The low pass may not help some students," Brown said.

University desk reporter Malak Dridi contributed reporting.

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