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Students from University System of Georgia colleges push for pass/fail grading

Some students say they don't have internet access and are struggling to take their classes.

MACON, Ga. —

Students from colleges across the state are teaming up to ask the University System of Georgia (USG) to switch to pass/fail grading this semester. 

After COVID-19 closed colleges in the system, all lectures, assignments, and exams are being given online, and some students -- particularly in rural Georgia -- say they don't have the internet access or resources to complete them. 

Post after post on the USG Students 4 Grade Reform Facebook page are students telling their stories about how COVID-19 and the switch to online classes have impacted them. They want USG to level the playing field by switching to an opt-in pass/fail grading system. 

“The main basis to the grading system is that everyone has equal access, equal opportunity on campus. Now, it's not true anymore,” said Bryson Henriott, a freshman at the University of Georgia. 

Henriott is one of the students who started the petition. He had to move back home to Vidalia to wrap up his semester.

The problem is that he doesn't have adequate internet access. USG gave him and other students a WiFi hotspot, but Henriott says it doesn’t work. 

“I've been having to travel to my grandparents' house to do work. That's actually where I'm at right now,” said Henriott. 

He’s dependent on his grandparents’ WiFi daily, but one day, their internet wasn't working. So he spent hours in a Chick-fil-A parking lot to turn in his assignments. Henriott's story is one of many across the state. 

Nathan Graham, Georgia College and State University student president-elect, is also advocating for the change at his college. 

“There's a lot of students who don't have internet access,” Graham said. “I come from a very rural county, Laurens County,  and I know a lot of people from neighboring Dodge County or Baldwin County… where it's not very rural, but once you get out of Milledgeville, you're moving into areas where internet access isn't always totally available or it's limited at best.”

USG's response to a pass/fail system tells students to “rise to the challenge” and that “in times of adversity, we should reach higher, not lower.”

“It has nothing to do with us reaching higher,” Henriott said. “We can't help that we don't have internet access, we can't help that we're having to take care of siblings. We can't help that our family members have gotten COVID-19. These are circumstances that are just out of our control.”

Graham and Henriott say students are worried about maintaining their GPA and keeping their scholarships. 

The group says adopting a system like this for the spring semester won't reduce academic rigor. Dozens of colleges across the nation have adopted a pass/fail system or similar policies. Those colleges including Ivy League schools like Harvard and Yale.

“It's nothing that's going to call for an institutional change. It's an emergency situation,” Graham said. 

“This isn't for the students who aren't normally excelling,” Henriott said. “This is for the students who are excelling, but can't keep up because circumstances [are] out of their control.”

Time is now ticking. USG colleges are a couple weeks, or in some cases days away from the semester ending. So, if colleges or USG were to reconsider and implement this pass/fail policy, it has to be soon.

The University System of Georgia issued this statement: 

“The University System of Georgia (USG) is aware some institutions around the nation have decided to shift to pass/fail grading after transitioning to remote education. We are confident our students will rise to the challenge, and the USG will do everything in its power to help them do so. We trust our faculty to teach and grade students effectively.

In times of adversity, we should reach higher, not lower. Maintaining high academic standards is critical to the success of USG students now and in the future. Continuing letter grading for the final few weeks of the semester will allow faculty to assess the performance of students in the same manner as they always have. The USG is confident that faculty and students will rely on the resilience they have shown thus far and continue to meet our high standards.

While online instruction will be new to many, thousands of USG students and faculty have already experienced it through nearly 11,000 online course sections offered prior to USG’s temporary shift to all-online instruction. In addition, the USG has offered resources to assist faculty and resources to assist students making the transition to online learning.”

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