Academic Forgiveness Policy Expands Beyond First-Year Students

On April 23, Georgia Tech’s Academic Faculty Senate approved changes to the Institute’s Grade Substitution policy that were proposed by the Student Regulations Committee.

The previous policy permitted first-time, first-year students to repeat a course in which they received a D or F grade, and have their new grade substituted for the old grade in the calculation of academic grade point average (GPA). That policy now extends to all undergraduate students during any year of study.

The policy began as a way to support first-year students in their transition to the college environment, which usually has a different structure of teaching and learning than high school.

“Accompanied by other ‘first-time’ changes in students’ lives, such as being away from home and their families, these ‘firsts’ can collectively contribute to lower performance in a course that is not a true reflection of the student’s ultimate achievements in a program,” said Natashia Boland, Fouts Family Professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

The policy changes grew out of the work of the Diversity and Inclusion Council of the College of Engineering, of which Boland is a part.

The council began meeting in 2017 with the mission to “identify, raise awareness of, and work on issues related to diversity and inclusion.” The group formed at the direction of Steve McLaughlin, Dean and Southern Company Chair of the College of Engineering, with support from Pinar Keskinocak, the William W. George Chair and Professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering and ADVANCE Professor.

In their work, the group noticed differences in retention rates for transfer students. They began to dig deeper to find out why those rates differed from other undergraduates.

Meeting with representatives from the Transfer Student Association, a student group focused on helping transfer students acclimate to Georgia Tech and optimize their path to graduation, informed the council’s work.

“Transfer students, just like first-year students, face challenges in making the transition to Georgia Tech that could impact their grades early in their time here,” said Jessica Reffitt, a transfer student and chemical and biomolecular engineering major. “Unfortunately, there was no forgiveness for them in the previous policy.”

Louis Apraku-Boadi, also a transfer student and chemical and biomolecular engineering major, believes the policy changes are a step forward.

“The new policy will give transfer students the ability to overcome some of the initial missteps that can arise from being in a new environment in general, and at Georgia Tech specifically,” he said.

The policy updates could also have positive implications for students’ employment outcomes, as some employers only consider job candidates who meet certain GPA thresholds.

“A 0.1 difference in GPA can have significant repercussions in career opportunities for Georgia Tech graduates,” Boland said. “Now, no student need miss such an opportunity due to one bad grade.”

The adjustment acknowledges that one grade in one course does not have to define any undergraduate student’s long-term success.

“This is not only a change to celebrate for transfer students, but also for all students who, at one time or another during their program, experience a difficulty or challenge resulting in an uncharacteristically low grade,” Keskinocak said.

To learn more about the policy, view the presentation from the April 23 Faculty Senate meeting at facultygovernance.gatech.edu.

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