SDCCD announces extended withdrawal option and speaks on pass-no pass


Mesa audio/visual dept.

An empty classroom as students continue online instruction.

Lance Nelson, Editor-in-Chief

San Diego Community College District (SDCCD), along with the state chancellor’s office, approved a notation on March 26 to allow students to obtain an Excused Withdrawal (EW) for any classes in which they are enrolled. This means a student can withdraw from a course due to circumstances out of their control (ie: the impact of COVID-19), but the withdrawal will be excused. This would not affect a student’s GPA or their academic standing. According to an email sent to students on March 27, the deadline to take an EW is May 8 and a refund of enrollment fees will be issued. 

It’s to be noted that if the government doesn’t change current regulations, withdrawing from courses by May 8 may result in students receiving financial aid, including those using Veteran’s benefits, having to pay back some portion of the funds received. Loans may also be reduced if units enrolled drops below six before check disbursement.  According to San Diego Mesa President, Dr. Pamela Luster, the district has been working on these issues as well, but the federal government has yet to respond.

In the wake of college course outlines being modified because of COVID-19, The Mesa Press has advocated for a move from traditional “A-F” letter grading to a pass-no pass system, but Luster clarified, “We don’t control our own grading policies.”

Explaining why SDCCD can’t make such sweeping decisions on grading, Luster pointed to Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations (CCR). Within this code, it states that the outlines and curriculum that each community college district creates for their available courses, including grading, can’t wander from what has already been approved by the California Community College System.

Some courses do have the opportunity to offer pass-no pass markings. Understanding that the deadline for eligible courses to switch to pass-no pass came before the campus shutdown, Luster informed The Mesa Press that students in those courses will see an extended deadline pushed into April for those who would like to not take a letter grade. Emails will soon be sent out to students with this information.

It’s the other courses that are presenting SDCCD with a roadblock. Grading protocols for these courses have already been approved within the course outline of record (COR). The COR is a reference guide for California community colleges which lays out content and objectives for each course. Consider it a type of quality control to keep each college providing appropriate material with the goal of students transferring to a four-year university. 

According to the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges’ website, the COR offers a blueprint for instructional material and states that, “teaching should always be a dynamic and adaptive process, constantly adjusting to accommodate the ever-changing, diverse learning needs of students in the California community colleges.” It would seem that adjusting how courses are conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic would warrant a change in grading as well, but it isn’t that easy.

Luster further explained what would happen if the district simply “flipped a switch” and changed to pass-no pass grading without the approval from the state. The adjusted courses would be rendered ineligible based on what was previously approved. For example, if it’s a major prep course and letter grades were removed, the course credit more than likely wouldn’t transfer to a four-year university.

Regarding how a change in grading would affect transferring to a UC or CSU, the district is also working with those institutions to see if they would be willing to accept pass-no pass for major prep courses taken in the spring 2020 semester. Without an agreement, changing the grading format could risk students being denied admission into the UC and CSU system. 

Luster added, “We’re talking about very large systems of education, all trying to work together during a pandemic, and we aren’t in our offices.” The Mesa president also voiced her understanding of students asking about pass-no pass.

In the meantime, SDCCD sent out a survey on March 25 to gather information on where students are having the most difficulty. Luster shared that in just two hours, 2,300 surveys had already been submitted. These results will help SDCCD plan accordingly, so students are encouraged to answer and to do so honestly.

Early survey results show that students are finding the most difficulty with children being homeschooled, caring for family members, not having access to food, and other issues caused by the pandemic. Luster also spoke on a district fundraising campaign to help ease stress at home. As of March 26, 100 laptops have been sent out to students, with 45 more planned, and in the case that even more are needed, Luster reassured, “We will buy more.”

Students are urged to voice their concerns as the district continues to work with state officials and the UC and CSU systems to address grading. As of March 27, no official decisions on changing all courses to a pass-no pass grading system have been made.