Iowa universities announce temporary, lenient, grading option this spring

COVID-19 changes inspire grading flexibility at UI, ISU

Autumn Gable of New Hampton moves her belongings out of Burge Residence Hall with help from Caroline Peterson (backgroun
Autumn Gable of New Hampton moves her belongings out of Burge Residence Hall with help from Caroline Peterson (background) during a scheduled move-out from the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Thursday, March 19, 2020. Students have been told to vacate their dorms and are required to sign up for two-hour time slots to remove their belongings. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — As Iowa’s public universities welcome back from spring break their 75,000-plus students — albeit virtually — administrators are announcing new, more lenient, grading options in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s forced all in-person classes online for the rest of the semester.

University of Iowa and Iowa State University undergraduate students this spring will be allowed to either take the letter grade their instructor records or choose a pass/nonpass option. This could help students who, for example, don’t do as well as they believe they could have without the coronavirus-related interruptions, changes, and distractions — but still pass the class.

UI graduate students, similarly, will be allowed to take their letter grade or choose a “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” grading option. Iowa State announced its graduate college, like Iowa, is working on a similar temporary grading option.

The University of Northern Iowa already had a “credit/no credit” option but, “due to the extraordinary circumstances,” the campus has modified and expanded its use, according to UNI Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Patrick Pease. Ungraded classes this spring can count toward any graduation requirements a UNI student needs “without restriction.”

“Furthermore, we have extended the deadline for students to change a graded class to ungraded until the end of finals week,” Pease said. “The expanded use of this option will allow students to continue making progress toward graduation during this challenging semester without necessarily having to worry about their GPA.”

UNI also has agreed to accept “all forms of ungraded classes taken during spring 2020” from other institutions as valid transfer classes for future transfer students.

All three public universities, additionally, will add a designation on all student transcripts “indicating the extraordinary circumstances encountered during the 2020 spring semester,” according to a UI message sent to students Wednesday.


Iowa’s public universities — and most, if not all, its private and community colleges and universities — have moved in-person instruction and classes online for the rest of the spring semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has upended life around the world.

They’ve also canceled in-person commencement ceremonies, halted laboratory research not related to COVID-19, barred business-related travel, and curtailed in-person meetings and events, to varying degrees.

Iowa State and UNI students started back to class this week. UI students will resume their semester courses Monday.

In addition to allowing leniency in grading — with the pass/nonpass options — Iowa’s public universities have extended numerous deadlines, including the one-week bump for UI early registration for fall 2020. Early registration now will take place from April 20 through May 1.

UI administrators also are allowing students more time to drop courses or completely withdraw this spring. They can continue to do so through May 8. UI graduate students can drop individual courses through May 8, but their complete-withdraw deadline is April 14 — although exceptions are allowed with the college dean’s permission.

The University of Iowa, this week, followed Iowa State and UNI in canceling 2020 summer study abroad programming. Iowa State has not yet nixed study abroad programs starting after Aug. 15.

While UNI moved in-person courses online for the summer, and Iowa State moved full-term and first-term summer courses online, UI on Wednesday announced administrators continue to evaluate appropriate next steps — and are working with collegiate leadership and shared governance to do so.

“Our first priority remains protecting the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and visitors to the university,” according to the UI message. “Many of the summer courses provided by the university are already delivered completely online but there are many in-person experiences that occur on the UI campus every summer.”

UI officials will provide additional direction for its summer instruction by April 3.


Details of the temporary grading options vary by campus — with UI students required to indicate their choices by May 8, and ISU students required to decide between May 13 and 19. And the temporary grading option doesn’t extend to all ISU students — namely those in 500- or 600-level courses.

The pass or not-pass marks won’t factor into a student’s grade-point average, and UI Student Body President Noel Mills told The Gazette on Thursday she advocated for ease and options around grading this semester — in light of the unprecedented challenges and changes she and her peers are facing.

“I think it’s a wonderful option,” UI senior Mills said from her family home in Waterloo. “It’s very gracious on the university’s part to offer it.”

Not only is navigating online education new for some students, she said, many are distracted by unexpected personal priorities — including their health, care for a loved one, or moving off or away from campus.

“In these circumstances, the last thing a student should be worried about is their GPA,” she said. “They’re trying to figure out how they’re going to pay rent. They’re trying to care for their loved ones who might be at high risk. They’re just trying to figure things out.”

Mills said she’s on track to get good grades this semester and so likely will choose to accept those marks as planned.

“But if, for whatever reason, online learning is not working for me personally, and it just goes really poorly, I have the option to have it be all ‘pass’ and just have the GPA that I had before the semester,” she said.

She also praised the campuses for providing students with technical support and resources — like walk- or drive-up Wi-Fi on campus, laptops for rent, and on-call support.


In a “message of thanks” on Thursday, ISU President Wendy Wintersteen praised the hard work her campus community has put in during these unprecedented times and acknowledged the challenges and stresses.

“Your time, compassion and proactive assistance make a huge difference,” she wrote in the message. “Be sensitive to how this extraordinary time is affecting others. Be mindful of the stress that exists across the spectrum, from you as faculty and staff and throughout our student body.

“As we rise up and respond to these challenges, trust that the campanile bells will continue to ring, central campus will grow greener as the days grow longer and warmer, and Iowa State will endure.”

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