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New Penn State 'Grade Forgiveness' Policy Gives Students A Second Chance

Emily Reddy
Old Main, the administration building at Penn State. The university implementing a "grade forgiveness" policy in summer 2020 as part of broader efforts to help more students succeed.

Under a new Penn State policy, undergraduates who get a D or an F in a class, will be able to ask retake the class and, if they do better, have their higher grade count toward their GPA.

The university says the change — “grade forgiveness" — is part of a broader effort to help more students succeed.

David Smith, head of the Division of Undergraduate Studies at Penn State, said the university has been developing a systematic way of working with students struggling academically.

“We know that students encounter difficulties beyond just the academics — mental health, financial requirements of working often get in the way," Smith said. "So when courses don’t go well, the damage to the GPA can really set them back in terms of being able to finish a degree.”

The Faculty Senate approved the policy. It will take effect in summer 2020. Smith said it's one of a number of policy changes geared toward helping students succeed. 

“If you encounter difficulty, is that the end of the path?" Smith said. "Or, do we create ways for you to learn and grow.”

Other initiatives include a policy on academic warning and suspension.

“I think at many institutions, there’s the longer held notion of sink or swim — you either succeed or you don’t," Smith said. "We provide resources. If you take advantage of them, great. If you don’t, you’re an adult, it’s sort of on you. I think that’s an outdated way of thinking about institutions of higher education.”

Under the new policy, the lower of students' two grades will still appear on the transcript. But, because it will not be included in the GPA, that can help students academically, including declaring a major and graduating. Both require a 2.0 GPA.

Students can take advantage of the grade forgiveness policy for up to 12 credits.

Many institutions, including some in the Big 10, already have similar policies. For example, at Lock Haven University, if a student re-takes a class, the second grade counts toward the GPA. But, if the student receives a lower grade the second time, the second, lower grade is still used to calculate the GPA. 

Read this story and more from our partners, WPSU.