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With the switch to online courses across higher education during the current health crisis, many college and university students in California have criticized the learning experience and said regular A-F grades should be replaced by a pass/fail evaluation system this spring. Some students want at least an option to choose between the two types of grades until regular face-to-face teaching resumes.

Campuses across the nation and state are responding in a wide variety of ways. UC Berkeley is switching to pass/no pass this semester but will allow students to request a letter grade. UCLA is keeping letter grades but allowing students to opt for pass/no pass for as many courses as they want, unlike the usual one per term allowed. California Community Colleges are waiving the deadline for students to select a pass/no pass grading option instead of a traditional letter grade. Cal State campuses are studying how to expand the number of courses a student can take as credit/no credit and also how far to extend the deadlines for such choices.

Kilmer Salinas, a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps, asked California college students their opinions of this controversial and complicated issue. Some responses have been edited for length.

Erica Beas. Junior at Cal State LA. From Downey. Majoring in TV and film media.

As long as pass/no pass does not affect my GPA, I can’t complain given that this is a unique semester.

It will be unfair to those students who have put in more effort and worked to turn in every assignment and attend every class vs students who have slacked off this semester, and who will probably end up passing.

Although we are told that we will be able to resume classes via Zoom, this won’t apply to my video production class. That’s a critical part of my major requirement. All the work that I have put into my production packet won’t be executed this semester, which is disheartening.


Aaron Causapin. Senior at Cal State LA. From West Covina. Majoring in kinesiology, rehabilitation and therapeutic exercise.

I plan to be an occupational therapist after getting my bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. So far, I am only struggling with one class, and doing very well with my other three classes. It is hard to study at home since I help out with taking care of my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s Disease. Not having access to the third-floor quiet area of the library makes it difficult to focus on studying.

The pass/no pass grading system will benefit me — knowing that my GPA won’t be hurt from not getting really high grades, I can focus more on working and saving money. I think most students will appreciate it. Not having face-to-face and hands-on interaction with classmates and professors affects student learning and outcomes.

One flaw of the pass/no pass system is that students’ efforts to get good grades will be wasted, because it will not improve their GPAs. But the pass or no pass grading system will help alleviate some stress from school.

Stephanie Ibarra. Sophomore at UC Merced. From Los Angeles. Majoring in sociology. 

A pass/no pass system will  give students less to stress about during this time of uncertainty, and will help those who are struggling with their mental health, their family and their health. It can have a positive outcome.

A flaw that this can have is that those who already have the grade they want in a class can see that grade taken away with the pass or no pass system.

However, I think that this was the best decision for our health as students. It can also be an easier way of passing classes without having the letter grades affect us so much.

This (end of in-person classes) has affected my professional career because I was involved in organizations on campus that I enjoyed going to and I hoped to expand my professional career with, so with this halt during this semester, it is harder to do that or proceed with the events I was planning on attending. This has also put a hold on a potential internship that I was looking forward to. In terms of my grades, I think this will have an impact due to the fact that I am very much a visual learner and by not being in my classes, this can potentially hurt my GPA, which is something that I have been trying really hard to get up.

Dennis Gonzalez. Senior at Cal Poly Pomona. Majoring in political science at Cal Poly Pomona. From Echo Park, Los Angeles

I grew into the habit of submitting all assignments and completing assigned readings. My work habits will allow me to pass, however, not all courses contain equal content workload. Some courses are less demanding. For example, Vector Dynamics requires more comprehension to grasp the concepts and apply it properly [as compared] to a social science course.

[A] flaw of “pass or no pass” is the possibility of not being proficient in the content of the course. Secondly, the decision falls on the professor based on a vague system rather than a constructed point system. Not to mention, the possibility of a class curve boosting one’s chance to pass. Perhaps this pass or no pass system generates the most likelihood of passing, but it wipes out the extra effort and motivation to get an A in the class.

Maritza Garcia-Ortiz at UC Merced. From Granada Hills. Majoring in sociology.

This sudden stop has been really awful. I cannot function at home; everyone here uses Wi-Fi, so my internet is slow. When we have lectures online, my professors cut off or it sounds like autotune.

To me pass/no pass is the best transition to consider in these circumstances. I wouldn’t mind it at all. Before they sent us home, I actually told a couple of my friends that higher institutions should consider this method because students are facing distress over this.

It would be beneficial to me because, as of now, I am passing all my courses. I [have] heard from a handful of students that they also agree [that] if this grading system does go through, it would better. I believe it would be worth it for all students.

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  1. Vanessa Lupian 2 years ago2 years ago

    This pass/no pass really helped me. I was stressing on my classes this summer having a grandmother so sick, and everything affecting on top of me struggling for help and not able to get help face to face has been a mess for me.

  2. SD Parent 3 years ago3 years ago

    I suspect how one feels about it is relative to how one is doing in the course. If you're an A/B student with few additional stressors in your life, pass/no pass is bad news – it doesn't help you get into graduate school or beef up your resume for a job. But if you're a C/D student or struggling, it's a blessing. Perhaps a better option would be to let students withdraw … Read More

    I suspect how one feels about it is relative to how one is doing in the course. If you’re an A/B student with few additional stressors in your life, pass/no pass is bad news – it doesn’t help you get into graduate school or beef up your resume for a job. But if you’re a C/D student or struggling, it’s a blessing.

    Perhaps a better option would be to let students withdraw from classes during the last week (or even after the final exam) so that they can shine when they are doing well but are not penalized for doing poorly (since a not-pass also requires re-taking a class, but leaves a black mark on the transcript).

  3. Gen 3 years ago3 years ago

    I agree wholeheartedly with Stephanie Ibarra, she made many valid points. Well said!

  4. Karen Weinstein 3 years ago3 years ago

    Thanks, don’t forget Community College students.