Thomas Nelson's faculty has one more important assignment for students as the spring semester nears its end: study the options for the amended grading policy.
Shortly after the College moved all spring classes online, VCCS officials announced a new grading policy for those classes. Basically, students at any of the 23 community colleges in the state under the VCCS can receive traditional letter grades or a pass/no pass option for each class. The deadline for students to make their decision is May 2 for the eight-week and 16-week classes. If students fail to make a decision by the deadline, they will automatically be assigned the pass/no pass option, said Dr. Susan English, vice president of Academic Affairs at Thomas Nelson.
English and several faculty members emphasize that students need to heavily weigh in order to make the right decision for them. There is no “one-size fits all” solution.
“We’ve encouraged students to really think it through in terms of their own individual circumstance and to talk with their advisers, talk with their faculty, especially in terms of where they’re going, what their next steps are,” English said. “It might behoove a student to choose the A, B, C for competitive reasons down the road, depending on the program that they’re going into and specifically what class it is.”
Lauren Williams, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, agreed.
“If a student is planning to transfer, or to apply to a highly selective program, like nursing, dental hygiene, etc., they should consider the impact of a letter grade on their GPA, both positive and negative,” she said. “Students should make sure they have all the information and are making an informed decision.”
Under the pass/no pass option, students with an average of 70 (C) or better will be assigned a P+ designation. Those with an average from 60-69 (D but passing), will be given a P-. If the student’s average is below a 60, he or she will receive a withdrawal under this option. Students cannot fail a class with this option.
“There’s a big difference between the P+ and the P-, and that truly depends on what you need that class for,” English said. “Even here at the College, in your core classes you need to have a C or better. (In those situations) you’re going to need the P+ instead of the P-.”
Ursula Bock, dean of Arts, Business, Humanities and Social Sciences, echoed that thought.
“I advise them to make the choice in the context of their success in the course so far, as well as their future goals,” she said.
For students planning to transfer to a four-year public institution in Virginia, the good news is those colleges are accepting the P+. If a student is planning to attend a private college or university in the state, or going out-of-state, he or she should contact that institution to discuss what is best for them.
Angelina Johnstin, poised to graduate with her associate degree in Business Administration, did just that.
“I have chosen the letter grading due to the fact that all the universities I have applied to requested the letter grading in order for me to be able to transfer in fall 2020," she said. "Some colleges replied that they would accept the P+ and P- grading, but only with a statement from the professors to clarify whether it was a C or higher since that was a requirement for certain courses."
The amended grading policy came about following a discussion among state educators. Initially, the VCCS was going to implement just the P+/P- option. However, English said Thomas Nelson's Interim President Greg DeCinque and faculty played a role in the letter grade option.
“This bubbled up from our faculty, which is really great,” English said. “When the news came out that this was going to happen, our faculty reached out to me and others and said what about our students who are earning an A? That’s not fair to them. We’re really advocates about that.”
She said feedback from DeCinque and others prompted the VCCS chancellor to allow the option of letter grades. Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
“I’ve received emails from students who’ve been very appreciative of that,” English said. “And the main theme of it’s been similar: I’ve earned my A. I want my A on the transcript.”
Leah Wright is putting the finishing touches on her associate degree in Liberal Arts. She decided on letter grades for that reason.
“I chose this because I already had plans of increasing my GPA with the grades I’m working so hard to receive,” Wright said. “I don’t want all my hard work to go to waste. I want to be able to see the product of the effort I put into my work, especially under such turbulent times.”
Julie Young, head of Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics, was also appreciative that students were given an option.
“At first when the college discussed only using the P+/P grading scale, I was sad because I know that some students work really hard, and I want their good grades to shine,” she said.
English instrutor Tom Rockson agreed.
“The standard grade scale … rewards students who have worked hard for an A with a grade that will actually boost their GPAs,” he said.
He added having just the standard letter-grade scale “for all students would be unfair to those who do not have experience with online learning or who may not have easy access to the Internet and to the software and other tools required to be successful as online learners.”
Bock has received positive feedback about the policy.
“I’ve heard gratitude that both were made available to mitigate sever interruptions to learning on the one hand and to reward sustained excellence in the face of adversity on the other,” she said.
While Wright opted for the letter grades, she’s glad the decision is up to each student.
“I believe the choice to have the letter grading or pass-or-fail grading is a great option, especially for those who may be struggling to keep up with their classes since this dramatic change,” she said.
English said some faculty members initially expressed concerns that students might slack off if given just the P+/P- option. However, Young said that hasn’t been the case with her students.
“I can honestly say that I have not noticed students slacking off just to pass,” Young said.
English is happy to report a similar sentiment.
“The reality is community college students do try,” she said. “Students want to do well. It was really a win-win, and I was very appreciative we’re in a system where the chancellor listens to that feedback, and took it.”
For those students in the military or those who are veterans or using their GI bill, they should check with the Office of Veterans Affairs to see what their best options are.
Thomas Nelson faculty and staff couldn’t stress enough the need to take this homework assignment seriously.
“Talk to instructors and advisers,” Williams said. “I think that it is important that they really think about their choice.”
Young advises students who have an A or B in a class before the final exam to choose the letter grade. Since only that option will affect a student’s GPA, an A or a B is most likely to help the student. She said if a C would hurt a student’s GPA, they might want to choose the P+ option.
“I think that the best thing that the faculty can do is to make sure that students understand the policy,” she said.