In an unprecedented feat, Palawan State University (PSU) has produced this year a record number of honor graduates—53 magna cum laude and 89 cum laude, from seven on-campus colleges and eight off-campus schools.

This is the most honors that PSU has ever given out. The graduating class had to deal with the lockdowns during the pandemic and with the new online or distance learning methods.

According to the OVPAA records, the main campus alone churned out 43 magna cum laudes and 58 cum laudes for a total of 101 honor graduates. The College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology (CEAT) had the highest number of honor graduates—16 magna cum laude and 23 cum laude, for a total of 39.

The combined numbers of external campuses in San Rafael, Brooke’s Point, Sofronio Española, Narra, Quezon, Roxas, Coron, and Cuyo recorded 10 magna cum laude and 31 cum laude.

Even school officials were surprised by the turnout of their graduates, but they insisted that the latin honorees deserved their award.

“Nagulat kami dito, medyo marami talaga siya ngayon. Tinitingnan namin kung ano ‘yong naging reason behind,” Dr. Elucila Sespeñe, Vice President for Academic Affairs (VPAA), said.

In a recent interview with Palawan News, Sespeñe dismissed outright the notion of “grade hyperinflation,” a phenomenon based on a Stanford University study in which coursework now obtains a greater grade than it would have received years ago.

She said that the number of honors graduates went up because the students in the K-12 pioneer batch were so smart and because there were more awardees in the batches of 2021 and 2022.

“Honors ito ng almost two years kaya ganoon din siya karami kaya hindi rin namin masyadong nakikita na may problema ba. Ang isa lang doon ay ‘yong estudyante, nabigyan namin ng time sa mga exam nila unlike nong face-to-face,” she said.

She also refuted the assumption that the transition to online classes was the basis for PSU’s high number of honors in 2022. She can also attest to the exceptional quality of students who graduated from the university’s pioneering batch of K-12 students.

“Nakita namin na ito ‘yong first natin na graduate ng K-12 at ako personally nakita ko, magagaling ang mga estudyante na pumasok from K-12. Una siguro sa aming admission policy na magagaling na talaga ang mga estudyanteng nakapasok– at saka siguro dahil nga matured na sila pumasok sa atin. Alam na nila kung ano ang gusto nila at medyo responsible,” she said.

“Nakita namin during the responses, magagaling talaga ang mga bata. Nag-respond noong graduation, they really deserve the honor. Magagaling na mga bata,” she added.

Sespeñe admitted that PSU became lenient to students in the compliance of their academic tasks, but added that they did not completely prohibit giving failing grades.

“Naging lenient kami as to the deadlines, ‘yon lang binigay namin na leeway sa mga bata. Pero hindi namin sinabi na walang babagsak,” she said.

A professor from an extension college who didn’t want to be named said that the university’s lax policy during the pandemic was to blame.

“It is surprising na for the first time in history na ganyan kadami yung number ng graduates ng PSU with latin honors. At the same time, hindi sya surprising kasi the students has the freedom to do their activities ng walang guidance ng teacher. Which means they can access all and everything na pwede or they can ask help to someone na may alam sa klase ng mga activties na binibigay sa kanila. Or pwede ring sabihin na nating they have a lot of time to do their activities since they are studying from home plus they have extensions and considerations na ibinibigay sa kanila,” the professor said.

For several teachers, this leniency has become the source of the problem.

One professor from the main campus who also spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the way the administration set up online learning led to grade inflation.

“The teachers needed to adjust too and were asked by the administration to be fully lenient. At first, we weren’t allowed to fail students. We were asked to extend deadlines. Timelines for completion were lengthened to 1 year. Dun pa lang sa bawal mag fail affected na ang average grade of the students. What if I have a student na 65 ang final grade? I’m forced to put INC or 4 (conditional). And the completion process is very tedious for the teachers too. So I imagine teachers would just pass the students instead of going through that completion route,” she said.

She also observed that some teachers also fell short in doing their jobs during the pandemic. Some failed to teach at all.

“Some, dare I call them ‘teachers’, thought the pandemic lockdown was a long vacation and an opportunity to enjoy life, so they never put an effort into teaching. Hindi magtuturo=high grades para hindi sila awayin or Hindi mag reklamo ang mga bata,” the professor said.

The professor noted that she was not in any way invalidating the capabilities of the students. She noted that some of them really deserved the honors as some had worked hard for it even before the pandemic. Thus, she said, a thorough review of what really happened and the way forward is needed to avoid an impending long-term problem.

“We’re breeding a new generation of people who are not capable enough for the real world. We are in the midst of a fight against misinformation and historical revisionism. If we let students out of the academe without proper armor against this black propaganda, how are we ever going to move out of this predicament? Individually for the students, I don’t want them to view the academe as some worthless institution that gave them nothing. The universities should always aim for excellence,” she said.

Sespeñe is uncertain if PSU can still produce the same number of awardees in the next graduation given the lower number of graduates compared to the joint batches of 2021 and 2022.

“Magfa-face-to-face kami, iba pa rin ‘yong face-to-face exams. Baka ‘yong trend na ito ay ma-break siya, hindi rin natin masabi. Ang mga estudyante, kasama pa sila (sa K-12), sila ‘yong second batch ng K-12,” she said.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.