Georgia college students petition for grade reform amid online classes

College campuses are empty, but classes continue on for students throughout the state of Georgia.
University of Georgia student, Briana Hayes, working on her online classes.
University of Georgia student, Briana Hayes, working on her online classes.(Briana Hayes)
Updated: Apr. 17, 2020 at 10:48 PM EDT
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BAXLEY, Ga. (WTOC) - College campuses are empty, but classes continue on for students throughout the state of Georgia.

Classes state-wide have moved online through the end of the 2020 spring semester- a necessary precaution, but not exactly what students signed up for. The changes have caused problems for some students.

“The playing field is not equal for all students, for example, students who live in rural areas are at a disadvantage, because they don’t have reliable WiFi access," said Briana Hayes, a third-year health promotion major. "Until two weeks ago, I did not have WiFi at my own house. I live on a dirt road out in the middle of nowhere. Some students live in two bedroom houses with six and seven people at times- I know a student like that. I have another friend who suffers with anxiety, and is now tasked with caring for a family member, so having those burdens on top of being a full-time student is just really a challenge.”

Hayes is a Baxley native and an honors student at the University of Georgia. The former Miss Georgia is now president for an organization for rural students called RISE. She said a group of students from across Georgia are petitioning for the University System of Georgia to opt-in a statewide pass/fail grading system. Many schools, including Yale, Princeton, and Harvard ,along with Spellman College, and Morehouse College have implemented a similar system. Spellman and Morehouse are private, and did not have to go through USG.

“Say you’re going to get a C in chemistry, instead of the C or the B, you can opt for a pass, and that pass won’t affect your GPA like a B or C would,” Hayes explained.

The University System of Georgia issued the following statement that read in part:

"The University System of Georgia 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 students make the transition."

Hayes said it isn’t about lowering academic standards, but rather taking into account the changed circumstances for students.

“There are students who are without a job. They’re worried about how they’re going to pay their rent, or how are they going to buy food," she explained. "Actually, on our Facebook page, USG Students 4 Grade Reform, we have the testimony of a University of Georgia student that was actually diagnosed with coronavirus, and who still had to attend online lectures. There are students whose parents have lost their jobs. There are students I’m sure who have family members that are sick, so we just have to consider all the barriers that students are going to face while they are rising to those challenges.”

Hayes said students from Savannah State and Georgia Southern are on-board, and they are reaching out to SCAD, as a group of about 25 college students that includes Hayes are the driving force behind the petition. Hayes said as of Friday evening, all but two USG schools were involved.

The state-wide version of the petition had over 3,500 signatures on Friday evening (there are also school-specific petitions going around). The students are hoping to present it to USG, but time is ticking, as semesters end in May.

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