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A Push for Change: Exploring a Plus/Minus Grading Policy at MSJC

graphic via Canva

On Apr. 26, 2023, Mt. San Jacinto College’s Academic Senate voted to approve a proposal to amend the final course grading policy currently used at MSJC to include plus/minus (+/-) grading options. The college now uses whole letter grading to assign final course grades. MSJC could implement the plus/minus grading policy as early as the 2025 academic year.

Biology professors Ryan Henderson and Nick Reeves initially brought forward a proposal in favor of the plus/minus grading system.  The professors explained that they were looking for a more fair and equitable way to distribute grades in their classes. “My goal is just to make the grading more equitable for my students,” Henderson said, “There are only 3 shots for success right now in the grading system and I want more for my students.”

The new plus/minus model allows for not just three grades, but seven new grades as seen in the chart below. According to Henderson and Reeves, the plus/minus grading system allows those students who are on the cusp of a make-or-break grade to “engage and fight for their rightful grade rather than not even allowing that option.”

From “Modifying MSJC’s Final Course Grading Convention to Include Plus/Minus Grading” (Powerpoint)

The plus/minus grading proposal process for both professors started a few months earlier than April. On Jan. 18, 2023, Professor Henderson reached out to the MSJC academic senate about the implementation of the plus/minus grading system and did not receive a lot of initial support from them. The academic senate was reluctant to adopt the new system and asked for a trial run or in their words to “take it on the campaign trail,” to see how both students and faculty would react.

President of the Academic Senate, and the elected faculty representative, Dr. Michelle Vogel Trautt shared her personal experiences regarding the plus/minus grading system and encouraged students to share their views and perspectives as often as they can. “One thing we should consider is how many students could benefit from this proposal,” reflecting on her own experiences as a student, Dr.Vogel-Trautt highlighted how this grading proposal would have helped her personally, giving her a minus that would have swayed her transcripts. “The reservations we have heard are still valid, but there is a much greater student body and we should try to include all perspectives, from the loud voices to the quiet ones.”

After approaching the academic senate with their proposal, Professor Reeves and Henderson reached out on Feb. 6, 2023, to the Student Life Director, Kevin Baker via email.  They did not receive a reply.   Professor Henderson then met with several key opinion leaders at MSJC including Belinda Heiden Scott, Cheri Nash, and the student success committee.  Henderson also exchanged emails with faculty at Santa Barbara Community College to understand experiences there with their plus/minus grading system.

Pexels Stu Cottonbro

Subsequently, Henderson sent out a faculty-wide survey to get faculty feedback on the proposed grading system. Professor Henderson also sent out a sample survey to his students at the time to get an idea about how it would impact them directly,  as well as a sample size student survey of Professor Henderson’s 80+ students. Overall, the faculty response to the survey was positive and a large percentage of the faculty were in favor of the grading system.

Additionally, the Talon sent out a candid, unofficial survey to students around campus to get a clearer view of student perspective, and the reaction was largely split. This survey was handed out randomly around campuses to gauge student feedback. Out of the nearly 20 students who took this survey,  about half of the students felt the plus/minus system would harm their grades. Other students believed the system could greatly benefit not only them but students to come. One thing was clear, however, that students needed to be more aware of what the proposal exactly meant for them.

MSJC’s Student Government Association became involved and was eager to engage the student body in this process of ongoing changes. SGA leadership felt that the plus/minus grading policy could impact students’ GPAs, which are used to determine transfer admissions, as well as eligibility for financial aid, scholarships, and academic honors. SGA and student representatives also felt that the proposal was authored by MSJC faculty who “assert that whole letter grading results in the artificial inflation and deflation of unearned grades.”

Student Government Association (SGA), Board Trustee Joseph Awad explained how the students can have direct involvement in the process of policies becoming mandated. “I encourage all students to stay in the know as to what’s going on around their campus, not just as a student but as a community member”, Awad said, “Voice your opinions on whatever topic you feel important and make a public comment to be heard, and then subsequently the Student Government will represent you. SGA meetings take place Tuesdays from 3:30-5 pm at Menifee Valley Campus in room 3026, where anyone can drop in to make a public comment. Most students are unaware of SGA’s existence, but all policies and proposals that will affect student life and education at MSJC must go through SGA. The SGA is a channel open to all students at all times, and as they are our fellow peers directly representing us, ensuring student interest first.

Due to the pushback provided by SGA in the Spring of 2023, Professor Reeves presented the proposal on March 13th at an SGA meeting, to which SGA proposed a collaboration on the student survey. As a result, the Student Government Association advocated for the administration to have a survey sent out to the student population to understand the student voice before any implementations were put in place.

Pexels Monstera Pro

Seven months later, on November 7th, 2023, the SGA plus/minus grade proposal survey was sent out to all MSJC student emails and the link will officially close on Wed, November 22nd. It takes less than 2 minutes to complete. This is a chance for students to have their voices heard on the grading matter.  Students are encouraged to take a minute to fill out the survey to ensure that everyone who is affected by this change has their voice heard. The survey can be found by searching up ‘Plus/Minus Grading Policy Student Feedback Survey’ in student emails in Outlook. Each student has a unique survey link.

If implemented, the Plus/Minus grading policy may take effect as soon as Fall of 2025. According to the current proposal, MSJC faculty would not have the option to opt out of the change.

Here again is what the proposed plus/minus grade change policy would look like:

From “Modifying MSJC’s Final Course Grading Convention to Include Plus/Minus Grading” (Powerpoint)


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About the Contributor
Junaid Khan
Junaid Khan, Writer / ICC Rep
Hello, my name is Junaid Khan but all my friends call me June. I am currently a communications major completing my last year at MSJC. I hope to build my writing skills and better inform my peers while being apart of The Talon.
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    Nick ReevesNov 25, 2023 at 11:08 am

    Great reporting Junaid!