This week, The Griffin reported on Dr. Sara Morris’ proposal to modify Canisius’ pass/fail policy. The Griffin believes that the new proposal should be adopted by Canisius.
As it stands now, juniors and seniors can choose one free-elective course per semester, and four classes in total to choose to be pass/fail classes. For the spring 2024 semester, in which classes begin on Jan. 16, students can apply to make a class pass/fail until Feb. 9. The class, then, can still be counted for credit if they pass, but will not count towards a student’s GPA. Instead of a letter grade, people who score above a D get a pass grade on their transcript, people who score below a D get a fail grade on their transcript. The new pass/fail proposal would extend the deadline to apply for pass/fail accommodations to the end of the semester, allow pass/fail accommodations for courses within a person's major, and extend eligibility for pass/fail courses to freshmen and sophomores.
Dr. Morris presented this issue in her talk with the Undergraduate Student Association (USA) Senate as “an issue of equity,” and The Griffin is inclined to agree. Regarding the much-pushed-back deadline for a student to apply for pass/fail especially, this new policy would give those with issues beyond the classroom much needed breathing room. If a student’s external circumstances change after Feb. 9 next semester, and it becomes necessary for that student to change a course to a pass/fail status to protect their GPA, then in the current system, they have no choice but to carry on without a pass/fail option. The period between Jan. 16 and Feb. 9 is just over three weeks, not even a quarter of the way into the semester. An extended deadline to apply for pass/fail gives all students much greater flexibility than the current system.
Another one of the pillars of the new proposition is that any course a student takes can be turned into a pass/fail course, not just free electives, as is the case in the current pass/fail policy. This opens up the pass/fail system to those who want to change their major. If somebody, mid-semester, wants to change their major, as happens to many students, and they are struggling in a class from their old major, they can change that class to be pass/fail, and make sure that their GPA with their new major is not weighed down by a class they were struggling in from the old. Just like the extended deadline, this simply provides students with more flexibility.
Flexibility is, in The Griffin’s eyes, the key idea in all this. So much of financial aid in college is based on academic performance, particularly GPA. Oftentimes, those to whom aforementioned extenuating circumstances apply to the most are also the ones who need financial aid the most. The flexibility the new proposal creates gives a cushion to students for whom financial aid is most important. The best argument in favor of this policy is that it simply makes financial aid for those who need it more secure.
The importance of a college education goes beyond the education itself. Just as important is the opportunities college provides. Education is, of course, the main reason why we show up to school and go to our classes, but we would be kidding ourselves if we do not say that the piece of paper known as our college degree is not incredibly valuable, probably the most valuable thing we will have gotten at this point in our lives. People will say that a more flexible pass/fail system does nothing more than coddle students and therefore take away from their rigorous education. But as Dr. Morris said, the lens through which it is best to look at this question is the lens of equity. The security of financial aid from external circumstances that this provides also protects the opportunity that college offers, which is very important.
On that last point, it is not as though pass/fail allows students to sleep their way through classes. They still have to pass their class, as the name suggests. This just gives a student leeway on their GPA, which is extremely important, as has been established.
All of this is not necessarily a criticism of the current pass/fail system, although it does have flaws which were pointed out here. Comparing the two plans, however, Dr. Morris’ newly proposed plan is the one that The Griffin thinks Canisius ought to implement.