As a senior I’ve had the opportunity to experience a host of wonderful things at this university. I have enjoyed everything from world-class performers to terrific times with people I wouldn’t have met anywhere else to amazing academic endeavors during into my four years here. But until this semester I’ve never had the chance to embrace a great academic encounter – taking a course pass/fail.
Just like most of the undergraduate population, I have worked hard for semesters on end writing and reading away about materials related to my major which, in turn, will probably have little bearing on the rest of my life. The pressure to achieve and maintain the all-mighty GPA eventually takes its toll as nerves grow rattled and patience thin. With nearly all of my graduation requirements met and the need to remain a full time student a must, I seized the chance to take a fairly random and arbitrary class – and hopefully one that would not make me regret taking the academic path I did.
Knowing that I can learn something entirely new and out of my field of study with only months before graduation has been a liberating experience, one that many of my fellow students will never have the time to do. As other schools around the country have adopted various grading systems making room for pass/fail options, should GW be more open to embracing elements of the pass/fail system?
Top universities like Brown University, Dartmouth College and Columbia University have their own variations on the pass/fail arrangement that encourages students to branch out academically. Last week, the Carnegie Mellon Undergraduate Student Senate even proposed a pass/fail grading option available for students in the fall of their first year. Some medical schools have also adopted similar policies. While I’m not proposing GW re-invent itself in terms of grading, perhaps we should take a closer look whether or not this would be a benefit to our students and our educational experiences here.
Proponents of the pass/fail system point to the fact that is provides greater academic freedom (especially outside of a student’s specific major), the ability to take more risks, and can aid the general sanity of a student. Of course there are valid concerns that the metaphoric academic playing field is altered and some students will use this as another way to slack off. However the truth is, these things already happen – people know who the easiest professors are and how to work the system. Why not allow those people willing to push themselves academically to do so without a threat of punishment?
As it stands now it’s difficult for most students to even finish their major and minor requirements, in addition to their General Curriculum Requirements, in four years, leaving no room to take a class with a pass/fail choice. Many professors would agree that the current GCR system is not working for today’s students. For example, students in the Columbian College, must take a minimum of 17 classes in seven different areas, including math, science and the humanities. That is not only a lot of money in credit hours but a lot of time spent working for a class that a student may not consider worth the effort.
As the Columbian College reevaluates GCRs this year, administrators should consider the value of taking a class outside a student’s major if they are truly interested in it, and find a way to allow for students to entertain these interests without jeopardizing their GPA. Think of what students could do without the burden of that third science class for English majors or Physics course for history majors.
Perhaps GW could also look to one the of programs utilized by Columbia’s University to keep students in a pass/fail class motivated. Students there are allowed to view the grade they would receive in their pass/fail course and decide if they would like to include the grade on their transcript. No harm, no foul for the students involved. Another option could be to let first year students choose a course they would like to take pass/fail to not only ease their move into college, but also let them explore various academic options.
After all, an education is worth more than just a letter.
The writer, a senior majoring in English, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.