Dropping the D

Stanly Community College, in North Carolina, has stopped awarding the grade of D to students. The move was supported by faculty members concerned about transfers to universities, which often do not accept Ds for required courses. The practice depends upon the receiving institution, creating uncertainty.

The decision is covered by Ashley Smith, in Inside Higher Ed. You can get details from the piece. The change had a positive impact on the college’s transfer success rate, which the state’s universities measure one year after students transfer from a community college. Stanly stopped awarding Ds college-wide in 2012. For transfer students who had attended Stanly after the change, the college’s transfer success rate increased by 15 percent, the article reports. Proving cause and effect is problematic, but “administration and faculty feel strongly that it had an impact.”

The move is creating online chatter. Some educators express concern over grade inflation, but others think it’s time to scrap the D, which has always been ambiguous and somewhat arbitrary in what it represents exactly. If it’s passing, but won’t transfer, that’s a problem. If, say, a student has a D in college algebra at a community college, should a university allow the individual to move up to calculus?

One complication occurs when students don’t know which university to attend when they are ready to transfer. They get all their ducks in a row and then, uh oh.

Those concerned about grade inflation argue that, in the real world, the Ds will become Cs, not Fs. The pressure to pass more students is formidable at many schools, and the rate of successful transfer is a metric tracked carefully and, in Texas, is a component of outcomes-based funding.

Heather Hill, vice president for academic affairs at Stanly, says, “The only group that gave us pause that I was worried about were financial aid students, because a D counted for satisfactory academic progress, but most of the students earning D’s were having to repeat courses anyway.”


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