Weighing the pros and cons

Lizzy Balboa

Four short weeks ago, many Grand Valley State University students were cramming for exams in the hope of salvaging their GPAs with a B-plus or A-minus.

Meanwhile, others sat back relaxed. They’d eliminated their end-of-semester panic 15 weeks earlier when they’d registered for their toughest course as credit/no-credit — which has no bearing on their GPAs if they finish the class with at least a ‘C.’

Because this registration option does not affect students’ overall GPAs, many believe it to be a beneficial choice to get through their toughest classes.

For the most part, they may be right.

“Generally, I do not think there is concern with CR/NC showing up on a student’s application to a graduate program,” said Jeffrey Potteiger, dean of graduate studies at GVSU.

However, he noted a few exceptions.

“Specifically, many graduate programs across the United States have very strict admission requirements regarding the pre-req courses and often the grade or grade point average achieved in those courses. If a student has taken those pre-req courses as CR/NC, then no grade is available for review or GPA calculation,” said Jeffrey Potteiger, dean of graduate studies at GVSU. “This could impact an admission decision or the student might be asked to repeat the course in question or demonstrate proficiency in the subject matter by taking another course within the program.”

Pre-requisite courses aren’t the only ones considered, though. Potteiger noted that excessive CR/NC marks in general may be detrimental to prospective graduate students.

“First, if there is an unusually high number of CR/NC courses on a student’s transcript, this might be of concern,” he said. “There is a specific policy that exists at GVSU that addresses how much of a student’s coursework can be taken CR/NC. I believe a student is allowed to take up to 25 percent of the total credits as CR/NC. However, if a student approaches that number (about 30 credits), I suspect questions would be asked of the student why he/she had such a high number of CR/NC courses. Second, I think there would be concern if a student took a number of courses in his/her major area of study as CR/NC or if he/she took required courses for entry into a graduate program as CR/NC.”

JoAnn Litton, senior academic adviser for pre-professional programs? in the CLAS Academic Advising Center, said the extent to which CR/NC transcript marks affects a student depends on the program in question.

“How individual graduate schools (master’s in biomedical sciences or PhD in professional programs such as medical, dental or pharmacy) handle the CR/NC is totally up to the individual school,” Litton said. “Bottom line, there is no one answer, so students need to investigate the schools individually.”

She added that the admissions staff of some graduate programs may assign a C grade in place of the CR/NC, which would factor into the student’s overall grade calculation, while other programs may treat CR/NC grades as they would a PED course so that it has no impact on how the student is viewed.

At GVSU, more than one-fifth of the student body takes advantage of this registration option each year, and the percentage is slowly growing.

Philip Batty from Institutional Analysis said credit/no-credit (CR/NC) grades accounted for 0.3 percent of undergraduate course grades in the 2012-2013 school year, with science and non-science courses equally represented. However, some programs see greater numbers of CR/NC registrations than others.

“There are definitely departmental differences in the numbers of CR/NC registrations,” Batty said. “Most notably, the Movement Science department has a very high percentage, since nearly all 100-level PED courses are only offered on a CR/NC basis. In addition, many departments grade their internship courses solely as CR/NC, so those departments tend to have higher percentages than other departments.”

Batty added that GVSU’s language and interdisciplinary programs have relatively high rates of student-selected CR/NC registration.

Students can register as CR/NC for up to 25 percent of their credit hours at GVSU. No more than 10 credit hours can be CR/NC per major or minor, and the student’s major department must consent to this type of registration. Courses that use CR/NC as the standard grading scheme are not counted in the 10 hours.

Students seeking to take an elective, degree cognate or general education course as CR/NC do not need permission from the department.

To receive credit under this grading scheme, undergraduates must receive a C or higher in their courses, while graduate students must earn at least a B.

To register for a course as CR/NC, students must submit a CR/NC form to the registrar during the first five days of the semester. No changes can be made after the first week of classes.