University decides to utilize pass/no credit option for students

Written By Amanda Andrews

As campuses across the country shuttered their doors and forced students to relocate, the Point Park administration instructed professors to begin preemptively telling their students during the second week of March that this would likely be the last time they would meet face-to-face during the semester. When the university announced the shift to online classes on March 12, students and faculty alike had the daunting task of readjusting to a new learning environment.

The sudden shift prompted a significant number of students into action. Some created petitions while others sent emails directly to the administration about considering a pass/fail option for the semester.

One of those students was junior BFA Musical Theatre major, Nia Bourne. Bourne created a petition a month ago on, urging the university to make pass/fail an option for conservatory students. The petition quickly gained traction and surpassed the couple of hundred signatures she originally expected. It has 986 signatures as of April 13. Bourne said she came up with the idea when talking with a friend over the phone about COVID-19 and its impact on students and the world.

“It came to our attention that the severity of this crisis was growing at an extremely fast rate,” Bourne said. “Due to this unprecedented time, we came to the conclusion that school is simply no longer the priority for a lot of students. In addition to this, the very nature of the hands-on learning that is an integral part of COPA makes the classes not very conducive to online learning. So, we decided to create the petition.”

While the petition had suggested pass/fail for COPA students, Point Park does not have a pass/fail policy like a number of other universities. Instead, it has a pass/no credit option, which has now been offered to a majority of the student body.

“Pass/no credit benefits the student because in the pass/fail scenario a pass does not impact the GPA positively but the fail will impact the GPA negatively,” said University Registrar Scott Spencer. “In the current situation, this might benefit you if you need to maintain a certain GPA and you received a grade that would drop your GPA below the level you need. It would be beneficial to you if you received an F since you will not receive a GPA hit for the no credit.”

The pass/no credit option at Point Park means that after professors post the final letter grades, students will have the first week of May to decide whether they want to convert their grades to pass/no credit. Grades that are As, Bs, Cs or Ds will be marked as passes while any grade below that will be marked as no credit. Students can opt for as many or as few classes to be considered for pass/no credit as they want, but their decision cannot be reversed after May 7.

“The university decided on this deadline so that this option does not hang out there too long,” Spencer said. “We want students to take ownership of the decision in a timely manner. There are also quite a few processes and calculations that need to be done at the end of the term. This includes conferring degrees, granting Dean’s List, and determining eligibility for scholarships and things like that. We wanted to make sure we had all the information we needed to properly complete our end of term tasks in a timely manner.”

The pass/no credit system is intended for helping students progress to graduation on time and ultimately their GPA. A pass/no credit on a student’s transcript does not affect their GPA.

Of course, there are a number of exceptions for students who can use this system. Students have to consider whether one of their classes requires them to get a C or higher, for instance. According to the Assistant Provost, those students won’t even have the option to choose pass/no credit for courses with that grade stipulation. University Registrar Scott Spencer also said that students who withdrew from a class and students who received an incomplete would not be able to choose pass/no credit.

Despite those exceptions, the Assistant Provost said that the university tried to make the option available to the majority of students enrolled.

“It didn’t matter if you were already an online student, if you were about to get your Ph.D. or if you were an incoming first-year student; this was going to impact your educational experience,” Assistant Provost Dr. Jonas Prida said. “We knew it was a tool that we could use for a situation like this.”

Prida has been one of the leading voices of the administration in explaining how the pass/no credit option will work. He narrated a video detailing the pass/no credit option, and he hosted a webinar to answer students’ questions on April 6. The video, which was published on March 26, has more than 1,000 views on YouTube. At any given time, there were around 25-35 people watching the webinar, and Prida said he received around 20 emails from students before the university offered pass/no credit for all classes, asking the university to consider it as an option.

Along with student input from people like Bourne, Prida said the administration was swayed to offer pass/no credit to students once other universities locally and nationally started offering a similar policy.

“It was mostly knowing that our students were gonna be very dislocated and that not everybody was going to be able to succeed in the same way in an online environment,” Prida said. “It was originally in the catalog to give students the opportunity to explore different kinds of courses. We already had it, so we didn’t have to make up a new policy. We just used an existing policy in a smarter way.”

The transition to online courses has not been seamless. Along with any technical difficulties, college students nationwide have complained online about not being able to adjust to an online class format while others claim professors have assigned them more work than they typically

would since they are at home. There are other stressors students are having to deal with at the same time as well.

“I do think it is quite unfortunate that students still have to worry about classes while also having to worry about where they are going to get their next paycheck, their next meal, how to pay their rent, and so on,” Bourne said. “So, of course, all of these things will impact the ability to focus on grades. While a big part of COPA’s learning is hands-on, the ability to do well in class I’m sure is hard for anyone right now.”

The pass/no credit option involves inputting the student’s performance during the weeks of online learning. Prida admitted that the system Point Park has is not perfect but that it was the best one available.

“It’s the best system that we had to make a decision in a week, and it’s also—this is challenging for everyone involved to think about—but the decision had to be made for 4,000 students,” Prida said. “When you’re dealing with that kind of total size, sometimes it’s hard to always think about ‘oh what’s the one exception,’ even though to that one person, the exception is the most important thing in their life at the time.”

Prida encouraged students who believe they may have an exceptional case to contact their faculty advisor, student success coordinator, the Registrar’s Office or himself with any questions.

When the pass/no credit option becomes available online, it will be offered through PointWeb and reportedly will be a very similar process to signing up for courses.

“We’ll send out a bunch of reminders and emails, on the website and all that stuff because it’s important for students to take this option seriously,” Prida said. “Among all of the other stuff that a student might have to care about at the end of the semester, we don’t want them to forget that this is an option.”

Even though Point Park moved to online learning in order to promote social distancing and limit the spread of COVID-19, there is still a possibility a student could be or get infected. In that case, Prida said that a student could take an Incomplete for the class, instead of opting for pass/no credit, if this happens.

“If you’re a student who all the sudden comes down with symptomatic COVID-19, then I think you just [have] to alert your faculty or your Student Success advisor or somebody at Point Park, and the wheels of justice will start to move pretty smoothly for you,” Prida said.

Even with all the challenges for students and faculty alike, Prida said he was proud of the work students have been able to accomplish in the last month:

“I think it’s important to remember that Point Park students have been incredible during this entire change. For 4,000 students to—and there was already roughly 25-percent that took some

sort of online course—but even those people have massive life changes. For all that stuff to happen in a week and for it largely still moving forward and students are still learning stuff and faculty are still doing their part to help students learn is pretty amazing. I would hate for it [to] get lost in the fact that it didn’t go perfectly.”