4.6.21: Grading System (CR Grading) for Spring 2021

A message sent to undergraduate students. 

Dear Lehigh Undergraduate Students,

Last spring and this past fall we put in place an alternative grading system for all students in undergraduate courses. The CR/DCR/NCR grading system was available in all undergraduate courses in those semesters because of the unprecedented level of disruption caused by the pandemic. Earlier this semester, the Student Senate requested that Lehigh’s Education Policy committee (Ed Pol) endorse the use of this system for undergraduate courses this spring. Ed Pol unanimously rejected a proposal to endorse the CR/DCR/NCR grading system in the Spring 2021 semester. I am writing to inform students and faculty that I have decided to accept the recommendation of Ed Pol to retain the standard grading system for this semester. Therefore students will not have the option to choose the alternative CR/DCR/NCR grading system.

I don’t make this decision lightly, and I know that some individual students have been affected by COVID in significant ways, but several important factors argue against a uniform change to the grading system.

  • While this semester certainly should not be described as “normal”, it has proceeded without broad unanticipated disruptions to in-person instruction. Disruptions certainly have occurred at the individual level. Some students have been sick or quarantined and others have had disruptions due to family situations. However, I believe that the best approach to these circumstances is on a case-by-case basis.
  • Students whose academic work has been directly affected by COVID have a number of options if they are concerned about their grades. First, we encourage them to be proactive in working with their instructors to address specific issues in their course(s). Some students may consider taking an incomplete, allowing them extra time to complete coursework. They also may seek peer tutoring or receive study skills assistance and academic coaching through the Center for Academic Success and the Office of Academic Transitions, as well as tutoring in specific course areas that is offered by the Writing & Math Center, the math department’s Help Room, and other departments and organizations on campus.
  • Students have expressed concern that those who earned good grades in these semesters are inadequately recognized because their grades might not compare favorably to those of students who took the CR/DCR/NCR option for courses in which they were expecting lower grades.
  • Letter grades provide more information about a student’s performance that is useful to advisors, faculty and the students themselves as they plan their academic schedules.
  • Far fewer universities are allowing similar options this semester. When almost all universities were adopting these kinds of grading alternatives, Lehigh students having these grades were unlikely to be harmed by having non-letter grades on their transcripts. However, as fewer schools allow these kinds of alternative grading schemes, we cannot know whether or not graduate programs or employers will view the CR grading system in the same way they did in the Spring 2020 term. Three consecutive semesters of grades that include significant numbers of non-letter grades may impact students’ options for graduate school and employment.

I understand that concern about grades can be a significant source of stress, but grades are an important part of academic life even though they may present only a part of the picture of a student’s progress. If, despite the options described above, you are still very anxious/stressed about grades, I would encourage you to consult Counseling and Psychological Services to learn about programs to help students respond to these kinds of concerns.

The Lehigh student body and the faculty have shown a high degree of resiliency over this year and I deeply appreciate the work that everyone has been putting into this semester. I am hopeful that with the vaccine rollout and more options to engage in safe outdoor activities we will transition to a more normal approach to this semester and the fall. Thanks for your continued efforts to make the most of these challenging times.

Nathan Urban, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs