The University of Rhode Island’s Faculty Senate voted in favor of legislation that would allow students to opt for an alternative grading method in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But what does this grading method entail, and should you choose to opt into it? The Good Five Cent Cigar is here to answer all of your questions about what’s going on with your grades this semester. 

What is this “alternative grading method?”

For the spring 2020 semester, students can elect to be graded on the traditional letter scale or on a satisfactory/satisfactory minus/unsatisfactory (S/S-/U*) scale. This scale is very similar to the pass/fail option offered at many other institutions.

An S grade signifies that a student successfully completed a course and received credit, and is equivalent to anything between an A+ to a C-. An S- would show that a student marginally completed a course and received credit, and would be equivalent to a D+ or a D. A U* grade is the equivalent of an F: a student with this grade fails that course and does not receive credit. They may be required to repeat it next semester if it is a course required for a certain program.

Can I have some classes graded traditionally, but others graded under the alternative method?

Yes, you can opt into the alternative grading scheme on a class-by-class basis. If you feel confident in your performance in a history class, for example, but not in calculus, you can opt for a letter grade in history as well as an S/S-/U* grade in calculus. 

How would switching to S/S-/U* impact my GPA?

Faculty Senate Vice Chair Megan Echevarria described the S/S-/U* option as “GPA neutral” during Thursday’s Faculty Senate Meeting. This means that S grades will not boost your GPA, and S- and U* grades won’t tank it. So, if you are looking for an overall GPA boost this semester, you may want to stick with letter grading. But if you believe that your grades and GPA are suffering this semester due to circumstances created by the pandemic, S/S-/U* might be the way to go.

Will switching to S/S-/U* impact scholarships and financial aid? 

According to the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald D. Hayes, students who opt for S/S-/U* grading will not lose any centennial merit scholarships or need-based financial aid. 

It is unknown if switching to the alternative grading option will impact departmental scholarships, so please contact your program department regarding this.

If I opt for S/S-/U*, can I still make the dean’s list?

DeHayes explained that only students who receive letter grades for at least 12 credits are eligible for the dean’s list this semester. So if you only take six credits of letter-graded classes but nine credits of S/S-/U* classes, you would unfortunately not be eligible for the dean’s list.

Are there any classes where I can’t opt for S/S-/U*?

Certain accredited programs such as pharmacy may require students to receive a certain letter grade in order to proceed in the program, so check in with your program to see if you’ll need to stick with letter grading in order to move on in your studies. However, programs may also petition for students to be able to complete a course with an S/S-/U* and still meet accreditation requirements, so please speak with your program’s advisor about your options.

If I take a prerequisite course with S/S-/U* but it requires a certain letter grade in order to proceed in my program, can I still move on in my program?

Presumably, you would still need an S (or even an S-) in order to move on to the next course in your program, but DeHayes said that the University will try to be “flexible” in this regard.

If I’m applying for graduate school, how will this impact my application?

This depends on which graduate schools you are applying to, so please ask individual institutions about their policies. As for URI’s graduate programs, check with individual programs to view their requirements.

How do I choose my grading option?

Students must inform Enrollment Services their opt-in intent for every course they are taking by May 15: one day after final grades are posted on e-Campus. This will be done through a web-based form that will be sent directly to enrollment services, according to an email from URI Communications. When and how this form will be available to students is currently unknown.

Faculty cannot override your grading option choice, according to Echevarria. The only person with a say in your grading option is you.

Why was this implemented?

The Faculty Senate, DeHayes, University President David Dooley and other University leadership showed overwhelming support for an alternative grading option, citing the challenges students and faculty alike have faced due to the pandemic. DeHayes even described the option as “a compassionate response.”

 On top of the potential for a student, faculty member or their family members catching the virus, people may also not be able to perform up to their highest academic potential for other reasons. These may include but are not limited to mental health issues created or intensified by the pandemic, unstable or unsafe home situations, lack of access to the Internet for remote learning or economic stress created by the loss of a job due to the virus.

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Laura Weick
Working on the editorial team of the Cigar built my experience as a reporter and helps me gain experience as a leader in a professional setting. Journalism has also helped me open up to people on a professional, personal and social level, and in return, I will use it to illustrate the possibilities of the world to others.