The Daily Gamecock

Column: USC should consider pass/fail grading, partial refunds if all classes move online

If USC closes its campus and halts all face-to-face instruction this semester, the university should consider implementing a pass/fail grading scale and issuing partial refunds to its student body. 

If you ever tried, you would probably have a hard time finding a USC student who isn’t grateful to be at such a good school — the boundless opportunities that our university has to offer are impressive and immensely valuable. But for those opportunities, USC students pay an arm and a leg.

We pay for health services, room and board, meal plans and more, but above all else we pay for the reason we’re here in the first place — our education. And while online classes might solve some problems, they create others — namely, putting at risk the quality of education that USC is obligated to uphold and that its students pay so much to receive.

Face-to-face contact is one of the central pillars of a college education. To have an experienced professor, the opportunity to gain hands-on knowledge and the freedom to collaborate and learn with like-minded classmates is what draws high school grads to college rather than the workforce. 

First-year business student Sarah Davis said she felt similarly, stressing the importance of a “learning environment" and the value of being with other people.

"Because everything is online, and people are so separated and they don’t have the same interpersonal resources, it’s causing a difference in the amount of learning students are actually having,” Davis said.

Students are learning less, and it’s not their fault. Online classes pose unique challenges that USC is arguably unequipped to mitigate. First-year experimental psychology student Bel Shields said email communication difficulties and technology issues are two chief challenges that USC students are having to navigate with their online classes but kept a positive outlook. She said you “get out as much as you put in.” 

“I think partially the reason I feel like I’m getting that quality experience is because I’m on campus right now," Shields said.

Shields said that being sent home would reduce her opportunities and make the experience more difficult.

Even those students working hard to make the best of their already stunted experience would be negatively affected if USC’s courses moved fully online. 

In the event that it happens, USC should compensate students with the determined value of their academic concessions. Students payed for an experience of at least a few in-person classes, and while some online learning was expected, it would be a major disruption if every course offered at USC had to move online.

USC should also consider moving to a pass/fail grading scale similar to last semester’s. If classes go online, students will be faced with the same challenges that last semester posed, and they should be able to expect the same academic flexibility that was offered to them then. 

In an article for Inside Higher Ed, Lilah Burke said the reason many colleges chose to go pass/fail last semester.

“It can shield those who have been enormously burdened from a fatal hit to their grade point average,” she wrote.

According to Burke, moving home and taking online classes, in addition to losing jobs or dealing with family health care, can greatly impact student success.

By providing the option of pass/fail, USC acknowledged the challenges posed by schools shutting down last semester. If classes once again go all online, students should again be able to anticipate a pass/fail grade scale to help mitigate the difficulties of navigating online school. 

USC has an obligation to its students who pay for and expect a high quality of education. A global pandemic is certainly a challenging situation for a university to manage, but I believe all would be happier if the university’s focus was on its hard-working students and their education, which USC exists to provide.