Nevada higher ed students can opt out of letter grades again

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UNLV Photo Services

This file photo shows a view of the UNLV campus.

Tue, Dec 1, 2020 (2 a.m.)

All eight public colleges and universities in Nevada are again giving students the option to receive satisfactory/unsatisfactory grades for the 2020-2021 academic year instead of being scored on the traditional letter grading system out of coronavirus pandemic concerns.

Nevada System of Higher Education leadership made the decision last week after many students requested the grading option because of the interruption to learning caused by the pandemic. The fall semester, which was conducted mostly virtually, ends in two weeks.

“Our hope in announcing this decision is to alleviate the strain many students are experiencing during this unprecedented circumstance,” NSHE Chancellor Melody Rose said in a statement.

The scoring system was put into place during the spring semester, which was abruptly altered at the outset of the pandemic in mid-March. A UNR statement said the option helped students “better navigate what was a challenging and complicated time.”

At UNLV, students can wait until their letter grade posts before electing the satisfactory model. And it’s not all or nothing, as students can elect letter scoring for certain classes. There is one exception: Students in certain pre-social work, social work and pre-nursing programs will not be able to request a satisfactory grade. Same for UNLV’s Boyd School of Law.

A satisfactory grade is equivalent to D- or better for undergraduate students and a B- or better for graduate students. Unsatisfactory is equivalent to an F for undergraduate students and C+ or lower for graduate students. The satisfactory or unsatisfactory designation is not included in a student’s grade point average, and if a student chooses the satisfactory scoring system for all of their classes, their cumulative GPA won’t change. If a student chooses the option for some of their courses, only regular letter grades will be included in their semester GPA.

“We recognize that the ongoing pandemic has brought challenges and dramatic changes to the way we teach and learn. It has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives, as was made clear by the heart-wrenching student comments shared with the Board of Regents,” UNLV officials wrote in announcing the scoring system.

The satisfactory model will satisfy most UNLV prerequisites and graduation requirements, however it could impact financial aid — which is often based on a grade point average.

Officials are warning students to consider all factors before opting for the satisfactory system. Some graduate programs won’t accept transfer credits from students who switched to the model, meaning the students would have to shoulder the expense of repeating the course.

Students transferring from a two-year institution such the College of Southern Nevada to a four-year program could find that those universities will not accept the transfer credit with no letter grade being given. Students would be advised to check with the graduate program or school they are hoping to attend. For instance, Harvard Medical School will accept pass/fail transfer credits from spring, summer and fall 2020 semesters “so that no applicants are disadvantaged as a result of this unprecedented event.”

“We understand the anxiety that the ongoing pandemic and resulting economic downturn have caused for our students, and we believe our campus advisers will provide students with the information needed to make informed and thoughtful decisions,” an NSHE announcement reads.

The state system includes: College of Southern Nevada, Nevada State College, Great Basin College, Truckee Meadows Community College, UNR, UNLV, Desert Research Institute, Western Nevada College. 

Starting on Dec. 16, students can submit their request to be graded on the satisfactory system.

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