Pass/No Pass and Credit/No Credit for Academic Year 2020-21

October 19, 2020

Dear GW Community:

Our community continues to face challenges during this unprecedented time. Our instructors dedicated their summers to developing effective virtual courses that deliver a high-quality academic experience this fall, but the pandemic has caused much anxiety and disruption to our students’ usual routines. There are stressors affecting student learning while students are away from a structured campus environment. Even students who are in primarily online or hybrid programs are facing personal difficulties that make their usual online learning more challenging. We are impressed by our students’ continued resilience and flexibility.

We have listened closely to feedback from the entire community about the possibility of implementing a pass/no pass policy for the fall semester. Our students have been forthcoming with personal stories and rationales for such a policy. In response to this feedback, our Deans, as the academic leaders of their respective schools and colleges, consulted with the stakeholders within their units in thinking about possibilities for pass/no pass for the fall, so that we might develop a holistic view of how the fall semester is progressing at GW. The Deans worked with Associate Deans, faculty, academic advisers, staff, and, most importantly, gathered input from students to determine how best to serve students. Additionally, we appreciate the thoughtful conversation and straw poll taken with the Faculty Senate’s Education Policy and Technology committee.

We also studied pass/no pass trends among our market basket and fellow area schools as a useful benchmark for overall trends among peer institutions. As is the case with many issues facing higher education, there is considerable variance across colleges in their policies on grading. The Registrar reviewed the Spring 2020 pass/no pass trends and found that, on average, students used the option for one course.

As an institution of higher education, we must first be focused on improving learning for all students, addressing – whenever possible and practical – challenges that are limiting or interfering with student learning. Faculty and students must continue to work together to ensure that all available resources and reasonable flexibility are applied toward optimal instruction and learning. Some of those resources are referenced below.

However, some challenges are the result of circumstances beyond students’ control, and all stakeholders felt that students should not be penalized unfairly in these situations, particularly when the pandemic has had a disparate impact on disadvantaged individuals and communities. Still, offering unlimited pass/no pass or credit/no credit flexibility in grading might cause risks to students’ future educational and employment opportunities, such as in specially accredited programs in health sciences. An academic record showing several semesters of binary grades might convey a misleading signal of students’ performance and potential.

The proposed solution, we believe, offers a sensible balance between respecting students’ current needs and maximizing their future success. For Academic Year 2020-21 (both fall and spring semesters):

Undergraduate Policy

  • Undergraduates will be permitted the pass/no pass grading option in a maximum of one course (usually the equivalent of three or four credits) per semester, through the 2020-2021 academic year.
  • Students seeking that option would not be required to obtain formal approval or authorization. However, we realize that the option is not obvious or easy, and we believe that students who are uncertain would benefit by consulting with their faculty and academic advisors.
  • Students seeking to exercise the grading option for more than the proposed limit would need approval from their advisor and/or dean of their school, based on review of relevant and extenuating circumstances.
  • In rare cases, students may request a review outside of their school or college. The Provost’s office will create a process for such reviews.
  • The deadline for a decision in the fall semester will be November 6, 2020, with no changes permitted after the deadline. The decision deadline for the spring semester will be announced in the future.
  • Grades for Summer 2020 will not be changed retroactively.

Graduate/Professional Program Policy

  • For students in graduate and professional programs, limitations, criteria, procedures, and deadlines for exercising the credit/no-credit option will be decided on a school-by-school basis. All schools will contact graduate students as soon with further information about the policies they will adopt.
  • Graduate students are encouraged to consult with faculty and/or program advisors, who are in the best position to review potential benefits and risks of grading options.

The Provost will partner with Student Association leadership and the Faculty Senate to charge a student and faculty group to develop a list of recommendations that would render as unnecessary the need to have the pass/no pass option. The Provost plans to prioritize these recommendations to put in place for the 2021-22 academic year.

We want to emphasize that there are other resources other than pass/no pass available to students facing difficulties. If students face any challenges as the semester continues, we urge them to speak with professors for extensions or incomplete grades and work with their academic advisors for documentation and support. Undergraduate academic forgiveness and leaves of absence are policies available to assist students who are concerned about course performance and grades.

We are immensely grateful to our world-class GW faculty who are always mindful of the continuing difficulties presented by the coronavirus and are taking care to be flexible, supportive, and understanding in working with students who want to remove a grade, request additional time to satisfy course requirements, or take a leave of absence.

For additional support to help with any challenges during this time, we encourage students to take advantage of services such as the Academic Commons or Health Services.

It bears repeating: We are beyond impressed and inspired by our students’ resilience and by their enthusiastic determination to pursue their studies. The outpouring of messages we have received demonstrates students’ care for their colleagues and for making sure GW continues to offer a fulfilling, high-quality academic experience in the face of all these challenges. Additionally, we are incredibly grateful for GW’s talented and dedicated faculty and instructors, who worked hard over the summer to transition their courses to the virtual environment and ensure an exceptional experience for students.

Despite the physical distance among us, in many ways, the GW community feels closer than ever. We wish continued health and safety for our community as the fall semester continues and as we plan for an even better future.


M. Brian Blake
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

Howard Brookins, III
President, Student Association

Liz Gonzalez
Vice President for Academic Affairs, Student Association

Brandon Hill
Executive Vice President, Student Association 

Jovawn McNeil
Chair of Diversity and Inclusion Assembly

Barbara L. Bass
Dean, School of Medicine & Health Sciences

Ilana Feldman
Interim Dean, Elliott School of International Affairs

Melissa Feuer
Interim Dean, College of Professional Studies

Michael J. Feuer
Dean, Graduate School of Education and Human Development

Lynn R. Goldman
Dean, Milken Institute School of Public Health

Geneva Henry
Dean, Libraries and Academic Innovation

Pamela Jeffries
Dean, School of Nursing

John Lach
Dean, School of Engineering & Applied Science

Dayna B. Matthew
Dean, GW Law

Anuj Mehrotra
Dean, School of Business

Paul Wahlbeck
Dean, Columbian College of Arts and Science

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