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[cover story] Fury and the Sound
David Rees Gets His (Bleep) On
Around Tappan Square
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One More Thing
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Around Tappan Square

No Entry No More
Revised grading system adds Ds and Fs to student transcripts
by Courtney Mauk '03

A 32-year-old Oberlin tradition came to an end in December when faculty members voted to eliminate the College's credit/no entry grading option, in part to boost student retention and four-year graduation rates. Adopted in 1970, the CR/NE system allows students to take classes for credit without earning a letter grade. Its benefit to students? Coursework below a C- level does not appear on transcripts.

Proponents of the vanishing program say that CR/NE has encouraged students to venture outside their fields of specialty without the fear of damaging their GPAs. "Knowing I had that option was why I took an extra class--Computer Science 100--even though I didn't need the credits, nor did it fill any requirements," says Leslie Levine '03. "I actually learned a skill that has been useful to me."

But the advantage of CR/NE have been overshadowed by concerns that students are misusing the system as an informal means of dropping classes without penalty. Such students take up spaces in popular courses, which can prevent more committed classmates from registering for them.

A new grading system, which will affect new students in the fall of 2004, replaces CR/NE with a pass/no pass option. A "P" will appear on transcripts for grades A through D; an "NP" will indicate a failing grade. Although some students will benefit from the change--a grade that is equivalent to a D will be now be credited toward graduation--others are troubled that an "NP" will be visible to graduate schools and prospective employers.

In a related shift, the College will begin recording grades of Ds and Fs earned through the traditional grading system. Current-ly, any work below the C- level is considered not passing and does not appear on student records.

"At other prestigious liberal arts colleges where failing grades are put on transcripts, only 2 to 3 percent of students receive Ds and Fs, whereas at Oberlin, approximately 7 to 8 percent of grades are 'NE,' or not-passing. That's compelling data," says Dennison Smith, professor of neuroscience and psychology and a member of the Educational Plans and Policies Committee, which drafted the proposal.

"We concluded that one of the reasons for the higher rate of non-passing grades here was not that Oberlin is harder, but that some of our students prefer losing class credit to receiving a lower grade on their transcripts. For some students, the result of this strategy is to fall behind in earning credits toward graduation, and that can lead to a failure to graduate."