Explaining the Rationale for the University’s CR/GC/NC Grading Option

April 25, 2020
 

Dear UVA Undergraduate Students,

The University has received a number of inquiries about the decision to adopt a default credit/no-credit (CR/NC) grading policy for undergraduate courses during Spring 2020. As we transitioned to online instruction in light of COVID-19, we made CR/NC the default grading option for all undergraduate courses, while also providing students with the option of taking the course for a grade if they chose to do so; students may choose a letter grade no later than the last day of classes. I write to explain the reasoning behind these choices, and to confirm that our current policy will remain unchanged for the spring semester. 

The health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, and neighbors remains at the forefront of our decision making. As the University considered the grading policy, we were guided by several core principles:  reducing the stress and anxiety among our students by making this decision prior to the start of the online courses; providing clarity and choice for undergraduate students – who take courses across nine different schools – during a time of unprecedented uncertainty and disruption; and understanding the impact of transitioning to a remote learning environment, with a goal to provide the best care for students, with particular attention to students whose living conditions may not support an ideal learning environment.  In consideration of this decision, school deans and other academic leaders sought the input of faculty, students, and staff at the University and at peer institutions, seeking to understand the wide variety of issues students face in a range of challenging circumstances. We sought to arrive at a decision that would provide the best outcome for all students. 

As you might expect, there were conflicting views on every aspect of the decision about grading for undergraduate students. Some advocated for no change in the grading system, arguing that faculty could take account of the challenging circumstances as they graded.  Some argued that CR/NC should be the default option, while others argued it should be the only option (“mandatory CR/NC”). As provost, I heard from dozens of students advocating passionately for mandatory CR/NC and dozens of students advocating just as passionately for their desire to have the ability to choose a grade for a course. After considering all options and after extensive deliberation among the school deans, CR/NC was selected as the default for all undergraduate classes. The primary driver of this decision was, first, easing the anxiety and stress of this term by making CR/NC the default, while at the same time permitting students the autonomy to choose to receive a grade in some or all of their classes. As a result of the feedback, we did make one change to our grading policy: on April 15, we announced the addition of General Credit (GC) to the CR/NC option to ensure credit could be given to students earning a passing grade lower than C.  A grade of GC will fulfill undergraduate requirements that can be met by a passing grade lower than C. 

Many have asked about the timing by which students must decide to take a letter grade: why on the last day of classes, rather than after final exams?  We carefully deliberated this question of timing.  Ultimately, we decided that having students choose the letter grade option prior to exams—when students likely have a good, but not absolute, idea of their performance in any given class—allows students to say that they opted for a grade without knowing what their final grade would be. Otherwise, choosing the “CR” option could be understood as shorthand for receiving an undesirable grade, chosen only after students knew their final grade. Many students feel strongly that this is exactly the choice they want and embrace the logic of this timing decision. Others, of course, disagree. 

In recognition of this unprecedented time in our history, undergraduate transcripts for the Spring 2020 term will note that CR/GC/NC was the default grading option for UVA undergraduate classes. For those concerned about applications to jobs and graduate schools, and how the grades will reflect on their performance, I hope this notation is reassuring, as well as the fact that all colleges and universities—and indeed all college students—are in these same circumstances.   

I know there are varying, deeply-held perspectives on every aspect of this grading question, and I continue to hear from students who would like to see a change in the grading policy. As I hope all can appreciate, changing our policy on grading – introducing a brand-new approach, right now, just days before the end of spring classes – would in itself create a reverberating wave of stress. For that reason, I need to be crystal clear that we are not changing the policies we have adopted and communicated.  

As a provost, a former professional school dean, and a parent of two children in college, my hope is this:  I ask our students to focus as much as possible on their health, their well-being, and that of their loved ones, and, in their classes, focus on the learning. In other words, if the choice of whether to opt for a grade is weighing on you, I encourage you to stick with the default. I believe that, in the future, this term is going to be viewed as one of the most extraordinary and unprecedented experiences any of us have ever faced, and especially for those in college. As we head into the final week of the spring semester, my hope is that all our students, first and foremost, are safe and healthy.

Sincerely, 

Liz Magill
Provost, University of Virginia