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Pass/fail grading system’s impact on UW financial aid & scholarships

Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 11:21 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 14, 2021 at 6:49 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - UW Madison administrators are considering a pass/fail grading policy for the spring semester, which does not impact a student’s GPA. What does this system could mean for students who must maintain a certain GPA in order to keep financial aid or scholarships?

Karla Weber, the Communications Manager with UW-Madison’s Office of Student Financial Aid, says this is a question they were faced with in the spring.

“The two things that we’re required to watch for for students are GPA, students are required to maintain at least a 2.0 GPA for financial aid eligibility. And then we also have to monitor their completion rate. So of the courses they enroll in, how many of those courses are successfully completed,” says Weber.

About 2/3, or 67%, of their classes must be successfully completed to meet Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), which determines financial aid eligibility.

However, a pass/fail system changes how they measure those. “This past spring when there was alternate grading approved because of the pandemic, there were two grades, satisfactory disruption (SD) and unsatisfactory disruption (UD). Similar to the idea of a pass or a fail,” says Weber.

They were able to determine through federal rules that SD & UD do not impact a student’s GPA whatsoever. “But, we were required to included them (SD & UD) when we calculated that completion rate. So if it was a satisfactory completion, then it was counted as a completed course. If it was unsatisfactory, then it wasn’t considered a completed course,” says Weber.

Weber explains that there is some flexibility in each individual case when it comes to UD grades.

“What is the kind of saving grace for this is that students are able to appeal their failure. To explain kind of what happened, what were the circumstances that led to them not meeting these requirements,” says Weber.

Many scholarships also require a student to maintain a certain GPA. “What’s hard with scholarships is they can come from so many different sources. Private agencies, non-profits, schools can offer them. And that also means that their eligibility requirements can also differ,” says Weber.

That makes it harder to predict how a pass/fail system might impact a scholarship. “So really the best that we try to do in our office when that question comes up is refer them to who they got their scholarship from,” says Weber.

No matter what UW-Madison decides on the pass/fail system, Weber believes the demand for financial aid and scholarships will likely increase this semester. She attributes this to the financial hardships the pandemic has created for many students and families

“We’ve seen in the last year there’s been a lot of families impacted financially by COVID. So we are expecting to see, and have already seen, are requests for special circumstances. To take a second look at a student’s FAFSA with new information that something has changed,” says Weber.

The Office of Student Financial Aid at UW-Madison is hopeful they’ll get additional federal emergency aid to distribute to students in need, similar to what they received in Spring of 2020.

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