Dive Brief:

  • Six leading higher education organizations this week issued a set of principles to guide their members in accepting academic credit in light of the coronavirus’s impact on instruction.
  • The eight principles include acknowledging that the situation is placing stress on students and intensifying historical inequities. Transparency about credit policies is critical, the groups said.
  • The guidance comes as the coronavirus forces colleges to move courses online, which has led to more flexibility in assessments and grading.

Dive Insight:

The groups, which together represent a wide range of institutions, encourage schools to clarify their policies around accepting academic credit as soon as possible. 

“Uncertainty can only exacerbate the stress students are experiencing and could, in the end, harm students who make decisions today that might not serve them tomorrow,” they wrote.

As the spread of the virus upended instruction, colleges sought to minimize the negative effects on students’ academic experience. One way they’ve accomplished that is by offering flexibility with grading by temporarily switching to pass/fail options.

Students may be struggling with sickness themselves or within their families, having to relocate, or are dealing with the virus’s economic impact. More leeway on grading could help them cope, college officials told Education Dive.

Other institutions or programs are adapting assignments because some or all of the work students are meant to do can’t be easily replicated online. Some colleges have encouraged instructors to swap exams with lower-stakes assignments, such as reflection papers or essays. And many students may not have the technology, internet access or desire to take online classes. 

In light of all this, the U.S. Department of Education gave institutions and their accreditors some flexibility to adapt programs for remote delivery. Yet the need to hastily rework campus-based courses is raising questions about the extent to which instructors will be able to gauge student learning. The question rolls up into a broader, ongoing discussion within higher education about how learning is measured. 

Instructors will need to pay careful attention to what students learned during the disrupted spring term. This, along with proposed federal regulations that nod to a wider definition of the credit hour, could give a jolt of momentum to using non-time-based measures to track learning, some experts say.

Others worry the current flexibilities are eroding the value of students’ education, such as weakening their resumes for future jobs or graduate school.

Different approaches to awarding academic credit in light of the coronavirus could complicate credit acceptance, particularly for transfer students. Already, transfer students lose around two of every five credits they attempt to carry over to a new institution, according to a 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office.

In their letter, the groups acknowledged that institutions take different approaches to accepting academic credit. However, they added, their principles “reflect an expectation that all institutions see the current situation as a unique one that may not be well served by policies and practices that seemed appropriate even just weeks ago.”

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