Citing a wrongheaded “GPA fixation,” Western Oregon University leaders have announced plans to abolish D- and F grades for students.
They will replace them with “no credit” in an effort to support student success and encourage struggling undergrads to continue their education despite obstacles, they said.
The public university announced in a news release this month the changes would start in the fall.
“Students not earning a passing grade will be required to repeat the course and demonstrate proficiency. Our goal is to ensure that students who have met the core competencies and learning objectives graduate and provide every student an opportunity to be successful at Western Oregon University,” Vice President of Academic Affairs Jose Coll said in an email to The College Fix.
Coll, who took the job as provost in June 2023, said in the news release that “GPAs will now be a true reflection of student success and course mastery; failures will no longer mask the demonstrated abilities of our students when they pass courses.”
The news release stated that “the institutional academic grading regulation will reflect a grade range of A through D; the letter grades of D- and F will be replaced with No Credit (NC) for undergraduate students.”
“The difference is that the grade of NC will not negatively impact student GPAs.”
The move comes as data from the school shows that 65 percent of freshmen who drop out of WOU have earned at least one “F,” Inside Higher Ed reported.
Western Oregon University acknowledged students receiving “no credit” are significantly more likely to continue with their education than those who fail classes, leading some to accuse the school of allowing “grade inflation” to occur, according to Inside Higher Ed.
In a statement to The College Fix, Coll resisted this characterization.
“The GPA fixation we have as a country and the grading system that’s been in place for over 200 years has been used to determine who belongs and who is capable, although we know that similar to the SAT and ACT, many capable students have been prohibited from pursuing their post-secondary education due to these barriers,” he said.
But the center-right Oregon Association of Scholars, a branch of the National Association of Scholars, said the policy raises “several concerns.”
“Colleges should be evaluating how well they are teaching and how well students are learning. This approach seems poised to increase retention by keeping struggling students in the system regardless of performance, until administrators can find a combination of courses to put a degree in their hand. Ensuring students can perform academically should come first,” a spokesperson for the group wrote in a prepared statement to The Fix.
“Students deserve the opportunity to try, to push themselves, and to fail. They have the right to be treated like adults, the right to fail and to learn from it. What they take away from that experience should be up to them to work out, not something framed-up for them by college administrators to mask their problems with student retention and performance,” the statement added.
The topic of grade inflation remains a pressing concern in higher education today.
In December 2023, it was revealed that 79 percent of the grades given out at Yale University in the 2022-23 academic year were As.
“As you can see, a large majority of grades in Yale College are in the A range (A or A-),” Dean Pericles Lewis remarked after the report’s release. “This results in compression, making it difficult for instructors to use grades for their intended purpose of helping students understand areas of strength and others that need attention.”
At Harvard, an identical 79 percent of grades were As in the 2020-21 academic year, an increase of over 20 percent in the last decade.
“Mean grades on a four-point scale were 3.80 in the 2020-21 academic year, up from 3.41 in 2002-03,” the Harvard Crimson reported.
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