A Yale College Council resolution passed this week asks the administration to allow students to switch from taking a class for credit to a letter grade after they have seen their final grade in the class.
The resolution, which passed by a vote of 16-1-4, calls on the University to implement the new system beginning next academic year. Under current Yale College guidelines, students can opt to take up to four classes during their Yale careers on a Credit/D/Fail basis and can switch to an A-F grading scale until midway through the semester. Under the YCC’s proposal, students could choose to switch to a letter grade any time, even after they have seen what grade they would receive in the class. Supporters of the proposal said the policy would incentivize Yalies to work harder and invest more energy in Credit/D/Fail classes, but some students said they think it might attach an stigma to the decision to take a class for credit.
The existing Credit/D/Fail policy does a good job of encouraging students to try classes in areas they might otherwise avoid, but the knowledge that a letter grade will not show up on their transcripts leads many to devote less time to those classes, YCC Secretary Zach Marks ’09 said. The current system pressures students not to switch to A-F because they may not receive any grades until the deadline for making the change has passed, he said.
“The problem is that after the Credit/D deadline comes, many students sort of give up on that class,” Marks said. “It’s possible if you have a B average in that class that you could do really well on the final and get an A [for the semester]. But if you missed the deadline you might just give up on the class and not get as much out of it as you could.”
The YCC proposal is modeled on changes recently enacted by Columbia University and Dartmouth College, Marks said. He said the YCC Executive Board raised the issue in a meeting with Yale College Dean Peter Salovey last week and received a generally positive reaction.
Salovey said the current Credit/D/Fail system is due to undergo a review next year, but he said any modifications would have to be approved by the faculty.
“When the Yale College faculty adopted the current Credit/D/Fail system in my first year as dean, we agreed we would review its effectiveness after three years,” he said in an e-mail. “That would be next year, and so we will be open to student input and ideas. I think it would be unlikely, however, that the faculty would vote in favor of a system that allowed a student to opt for Credit/Fail after receiving a final letter grade in the course.”
Yale first introduced a Credit/Fail option in 1975 as a way of pushing students to take classes outside of their academic “comfort zone,” Dean of Undergraduate Education Joseph Gordon said, and the faculty approved a move to a Credit/D/Fail system in 1993 in order to raise the minimum academic standard to which students aspired. In accordance with the recommendation of the Committee on Yale College Education, the faculty voted in November 2004 to increase the number of courses that could be taken Credit/D/Fail and to prevent students in the class of 2009 and later from counting such courses toward fulfilling their distributional requirements, Gordon said.
Rebecca Taber ’08, who represents Davenport College on the YCC, said she thinks professors will be supportive of the idea because it gives students a reason to continue working in classes they sign up for on a for-credit basis and because it will relieve demands on professors to arrange their grading schedule around the deadline for switching to A-F.
“We think professors will generally be in favor because it encourages students to continue working through the end rather than until the Credit/D/Fail [deadline],” she said. “Students would put less pressure on professors to have grading done by a certain point.”
Scott Hillier ’10, who abstained from the YCC vote, said he decided not to support the measure in part out of concern that the proposed system could make a credit mark on students’ transcripts more suspicious in the eyes of prospective employers and graduate schools.
“I just felt like there were a whole lot of holes in the resolution that hadn’t been cleared up,” he said. “I felt conflicted because as a student I would love that system, but I don’t know what impact that would have on academics.”
But few employers or graduate schools will be aware of the new system if it is approved and will thus not look down on a credit any more than they already do, Marks said.
“When they see credit they think that this is a student who was trying to broaden his academic horizons,” he said. “It’s much easier to explain away a credit to a potential employer than it is to explain away a bad grade … Employers don’t know the ins and outs of all Yale grading policies.”
Princeton University is also considering switching to a pass/fail policy like that proposed by the YCC, Taber said.