To address impacts caused by the novel coronavirus public health crisis, Penn State is implementing optional alternative grading scales for the spring 2020 semester.

Graduate Student Optional Alternative Grading

Information about optional alternative grading for graduate students is available from The Graduate School.

Undergraduate Student Optional Alternative Grading

In response to the coronavirus epidemic, Penn State’s faculty and administration have developed a plan to adjust grading for the spring 2020 semester for undergraduate students. The plan reflects that many students, through no fault of their own, will not be able to achieve the grades they likely would have achieved without this disruption.

We want to provide options to minimize the impact on critical factors like GPA and to ensure that transcripts reflect the uniqueness of the situation. At the same time, we want to place the control in our students’ hands, recognizing that many will want to retain their earned letter grades to reflect their accomplishments.

Finally, we want students to be able to exercise this control with the maximum available information, which means that they will be able to select the grading option that most benefits their personal situation after faculty have entered final letter grades at the end of the semester. After faculty enter spring 2020 grades, students will have from May 20 to May 29 to select an alternative grade.

If it is to their advantage, students will have the option of replacing one or more letter grades with alternative grades that will not be included in their GPA calculation. The alternative grading options are as follows:

  • SAT (Satisfactory). This grade will be available if a student earns a C or better in a course. A course with an SAT grade can be used to meet all requirements, including entrance to major and prerequisites requiring a C or better.
  • V (Pass). This grade, which will be available if a student earns a D in a course, will be considered a passing grade. The student will earn credits for the course, and a V grade can be used to meet requirements for which D is an acceptable grade. The V grade cannot be used to meet C or better requirements.
  • Z (No Grade). This grade will be available if a student earns an F in a course. Z can be used to replace an F grade and will be treated similar to Late Drop (LD).

Questions and Answers About Undergraduate Student Grading

How will I enter my grades at the end of the semester?

Faculty will enter letter grades as normal. Students will be able to review their grades before deciding the courses for which they will elect alternative grading.

Does this apply to all students?

The alternative grading option is available to all undergraduate students taking spring 2020 courses, including World Campus students, and those returning from study abroad. Graduate students should view the alternative grading standards established by The Graduate School. They are different from the ones for undergraduate students.

Penn State will return to its regular grading system for summer courses, since students and faculty will have time to prepare for the virtual delivery of courses before the start of the summer session. Resources that help students be successful in this mode of learning will be available.

How will students enter their elections for alternative grading?

We are finalizing a new tool in LionPATH, the Alternative Grade Calculator and Request Tool, to allow students to make their alternative grade selections after final grades are posted. You can read detailed instructions for using the tool.

The tool will be available May 20, and students will have until May 29 to finalize their selections.

Prior to the tool being available, students can use the LionPATH GPA Calculator to explore how selections in the alternative grading system will affect their GPAs. Read guidance on using the GPA Calculator for this purpose.

Our current policy says that satisfactory grades cannot be used for General Education requirements or many major requirements. Does this remain true?

No. For spring 2020 only, the faculty and administration are allowing courses converted to alternative grades to be used to meet all academic requirements. For courses that typically require a C or better, students will be required to earn a satisfactory (SAT) grade. 

How will this impact GPAs, which are used for such things as Entrance To Major (ETM) and determination of graduation with distinction?

There might be some students new to Penn State in spring 2020 who will not have an official GPA after spring semester if all courses are converted to alternative grading. All other students will have an official Penn State GPA based on prior semesters, plus any letter grades they chose to retain from spring 2020. These GPAs will be used for such processes at ETM, Deans’ lists, scholarship retention, etc.

Can faculty insist that students do or do not elect alternative grading for a particular course?

In general, faculty should not be insisting on a particular choice as this decision is left to students to make on a course-by-course basis. There may be special circumstances where licensure or other requirements make it advisable/required for students in that course or program to retain letter grades. This information will be communicated to students by their assigned advisers.

Do we know how graduate schools, professional schools, or employers might view these grades in the future?  Should students pursuing such programs use alternative grading?

We do not control how these external agencies might recalculate GPAs, and many in the advising community believe that it might be better to maintain a letter grade, even if it lowers a student’s GPA. Students are encouraged to speak to their academic advisers about this important decision.

I advise a student-athlete. Is this option available to them?

Yes. Students-athletes should consider taking advantage of this option just like any other student would. Student-athletes with questions concerning eligibility should contact the campus athletic director (Commonwealth campuses) or their adviser at the Morgan Academic Center (University Park).

How will the new spring 2020 grading structure affect financial aid?

  • The new grading structure will impact a student’s federal and state Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) reviews in the same manner as the SAP process typically does by evaluating credits completed vs. not completed.
  • Grades of SAT (A, B, C) and V (D) will be calculated as credits attempted and credits completed. These grades will have a positive impact on a student’s satisfactory academic progress review for their percentage rate of course completion.
  • Grades of Z (F) will be calculated as credits attempted and credits NOT completed. These grades will have a negative impact on a student’s Satisfactory Academic Progress review for their percentage rate of course completion.
  • None of these grades (SAT, V, Z) will impact a student’s current GPA.
  • Students receiving financial aid should consult with their campus Office of Financial Aid Representative if they have individual SAP questions.

Can students utilize alternative grading after the system has closed on May 29?

Yes. The Faculty Senate has developed an expedited process and form to allow students to submit a petition to use alternative grading in cases where grades were finalized after the deadline. This may include the following situations: faculty changed grades in a course (even if alternative grading was selected previously), deferred grades are changed to letter grades, or grades are received from study-abroad. 

What if a student wants to change their election for one or more courses?

Selections are considered final unless there is a change in circumstance that warrants an exception. For example, a student who has changed majors, and now finds that they need a letter grade reported for a course for graduate school admission after having selected the alternative grade, may file a Faculty Senate petition through their adviser to request having their grade changed back to the original letter grade. The existing Faculty Senate petition process used to request exceptions to academic policies would be used to handle these requests.

Can a student use alternative grading if they have an Academic Integrity (AI) violation?

Students with AI violations will be able to utilize alternative grading for all courses. AI violations will continue to be reported to the Office of Student Conduct and maintained as a part of a student’s conduct record, and academic sanctions will be applied to determine the original letter grade. If the sanction included the recommendation for an XF grade, indicating a failure based on an academic integrity issue, the X notation will be indicated as an XF or an XZ depending on the election of alternative grading.

Graduation with distinction requires students to earn at least 60 credits at the University. Do courses taken for alternative grading count toward reaching this total?

Yes, these courses will count as University credits in determining eligibility for graduation with distinction.

Can students qualify for the Dean’s List if using alternative grading?

Credits earned from courses using alternative grading will contribute to meeting the requirement of 12 credits for full time consideration. Students must have at least one letter grade to have a valid semester GPA.

Can SAT and V grades be used for grade forgiveness?

Yes, these grades can be used by students in the grade forgiveness process.

Can students taking courses at other institutions use alternative grading from that institution and transfer the course credits to Penn State?

For a course to be eligible for review for transfer credit at Penn State, the grade earned must be equivalent to a grade of C or better. The transcript must list the number of credits and indicate a grade of C or better. If the institution is using a form of alternative or pass/fail grading, a “pass” would only be accepted for transfer if it were clearly indicated as a C or better (and not a D or C-). If you speak with students about this topic, remind them that transfer courses carry credit but are not calculated into the Penn State GPA, no matter what grading scale is used. Similarly, in its own alternative grading scale, Penn State purposefully defined a SAT grade as C or better, and adoption of the Penn State alternative grading scale also does not affect a student’s GPA.

Entrance to Major Questions and Answers for Administratively Controlled Majors

This section addresses specific questions on how the selection of alternative grading will affect entrance to major (ETM) requirements in administratively controlled majors at Penn State University Park.

What are the administratively controlled majors at University Park?

Smeal College of Business:

  • Accounting (ACCTG_BS)
  • Actuarial Science (ACTSC_BS)
  • Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIENT_BS)
  • Finance (FIN_BS)
  • Management (MGMT_BS)
  • Management Information Systems (MIS_BS)
  • Marketing (MKTG_BS)
  • Risk Management (RM_BS)
  • Supply Chain and Information Systems (SCIS_BS)

Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications:

  • Advertising/Public Relations (ADPR_BA)

College of Earth and Mineral Sciences:

  • Energy Business and Finance (EBF_BS)
  • Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering (PNGE_BS)

College of Engineering:

  • Aerospace Engineering (AERSP_BS)
  • Architectural Engineering (AE_BAE)
  • Biomedical Engineering (BME_BS)
  • Chemical Engineering (CHE_BS)
  • Civil Engineering (CE_BS)
  • Computer Engineering (CMPEN_BS)
  • Computer Science (CMPSC_BS)
  • Industrial Engineering (IE_BS)
  • Mechanical Engineering (ME_BS)
  • Nuclear Engineering (NUCE_BS)

College of Information Sciences and Technology:

  • Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations (CYAOP_BS)
  • Human-Centered Design and Development (HCDD_BS)
  • Information Sciences and Technology (ISTBS_BS)
  • Security and Risk Analysis (SRA_BS)

Will a SAT grade satisfy requirements where a C or better is required?

Yes. However, V grades cannot be used to satisfy C or better requirements.

Will the credits earned by SAT or V grades count toward the ETM credit window?

In implementing this approach, colleges are committed to offering maximum flexibility so that students will not be disadvantaged. For this reason, courses taken for alternative grades will not count toward the ETM credit window, which will help students avoid surpassing the upper threshold of the ETM window. Colleges will provide the option for students to enter the major if counting credits from alternatively graded courses would have allowed a student to meet the minimum threshold. To make this process more automatic for some students, some colleges with administrative enrollment controls will reduce the lower end of the ETM credit window for current first-year students. Other colleges will instead use a petition process and manually enter students into the major for which they are qualified. Courses for which students elect alternative grading will earn credits toward academic standing.

Note that the original plan indicated that alternatively graded courses would count toward the ETM credit window, but this would have potentially disadvantaged students near the top of the credit threshold. This revised approach automatically protects against this outcome by not counting alternatively graded courses in the ETM credit window. Flexibility with respect to the lower threshold is provided separately.

How will Update Academics handle this?

Alternative grades will automatically be recognized as follows:

  • SAT will fulfill any C or better ETM requirement
  • V will fulfill any D or better ETM requirement

What about ETM requirements that use a GPA for a limited number of courses?

There is still an ability to calculate a GPA for this selection of courses even though the grades for some courses will not be included if alternative grading is selected. Units with such requirements are considering whether to adjust these requirements, and any updates will be communicated here and through academic advisers.