Incomplete Grades for Courses

Finishing and Submitting Academic Work. Many college and university students naturally struggle with completing and submitting academic assignments. Let's face it: the demands of a college or university academic program can be many, complex, ever-changing, exhausting, and difficult. Success in an academic program has only partly to do with doing quality work. The other big part to success is finishing and submitting the work, no matter the level of its quality. Consider the 80/20 rule or Pareto principle in this academic context. A student may do better to spend twenty percent of the available time completing and submitting eighty percent of the required academic work than to spend the next eighty percent of available time trying to earn the last twenty percent. Put another way, missing an assignment gets the student zero credit while submitting at least some work, even imperfect work, can get a student most of the available credit. Don't try to squeeze every last ounce out of each assignment if doing so is keeping you from finishing other required work.

The Benefit of an Incomplete Grade. On their face, college and university academic policies that permit instructors to award an incomplete grade for a course are remedial and beneficial. Better an incomplete grade than a failing grade. Even so, incomplete grades are not an automatic right of the student. Policies on incomplete grades, like the representative one at the University of Iowa, generally set at least some conditions for a professor to grant the sought-for incomplete. Iowa's policy, for instance, requires that the unfinished work be small, the student have good reasons for the unfinished work, and the student's other standing in the course to be satisfactory. Incomplete grades are not an escape hatch for poor course performance, gross non-performance, or poor reasons for minor non-performance. If you are hoping and planning for an incomplete grade, then be sure you qualify. And then get ready to turn the incomplete into a passing grade as soon as possible. The University of Iowa's policy lists these other factors for awarding an incomplete grade:

  • whether the student usually attended class
  • whether the student communicated with the instructor
  • whether the student submitted most work timely
  • whether the student usually participated actively in class
  • whether the student took most exams and quizzes as scheduled
  • whether the student's overall work was at least of average quality
  • whether the student used forms and supplied documentation for absences

The Hazard of Incomplete Work. Incomplete grades can look and be attractive. But they also carry serious hazards. Once you get into the frying pan, don't fall into the fire. Students taking college and university courses soon need to complete and submit all work to fulfill course requirements. Professors and other instructors at colleges and universities nationwide often have the discretion to leave a student's grade as an “I” or incomplete. So far, so good. But schools generally don't permit students to simply leave a course as incomplete. Instead, students must generally complete the course or see the I or incomplete grade turn into a failing grade of F. The incomplete policy at the University of Iowa again provides a good example. The University of Iowa policy permits the instructor to grant an F I or incomplete grade. But Iowa's policy also states that the student may not ignore the incomplete grade to simply repeat the course. Instead, the student must remove the incomplete grade by “completing the unfinished portion of the work. If the work is not completed, the grade will automatically turn into an F, with the student then able to repeat the course for a new grade.”

Special Hazards of Incomplete Grades. An incomplete course grade is not a perfect solution. Indeed, an incomplete grade on a student's record can present special academic hazards. According to an Inside Higher Ed article written by a dean sharing experiences with incomplete grades, incompletes tend to extend rather than resolve academic problems. After all, the student must still complete and submit the incomplete work or take and pass the missed quiz or exam. Indeed, sometimes a poor grade due to the missed exam or assignment is better than an incomplete grade. An incomplete grade can keep a student from enrolling in the next course for which the incomplete course was a prerequisite. Incomplete grades don't generally count against a student's grade point average, but they do count against the student's academic progress formula. An incomplete grade can thus put a student out of compliance with the formula and at risk of academic dismissal when a poor passing grade would not have. If you face any such hazard, and your school is not helping you address and resolve that hazard, then get academic administrative attorney representation.

Causes of Incomplete Academic Work. Incomplete grades for courses find many causes. Student procrastination can be one of those causes. Some of us were born finishers, while some of us were not. Some students hesitate to finish and submit work, even when they have the time, skills, and other capacity to do so. Some students just don't like the judgment and finality that comes with prompt and timely submissions. Student time- and task-management skills can be another huge issue contributing to incomplete work. Many students don't start college with the ability to identify, prioritize, schedule, and complete multiple tasks, as professionals routinely do. Those self-management skills are one of the many soft skills that higher education teaches. But incomplete assignments and incomplete course grades have many other causes, including any one or several of the following:

  • student confusion or misunderstanding over assignments
  • course materials triggering stress or other psychological syndromes
  • frequent or untimely instructor changes in course requirements
  • instructor loss, misplacement, or rejection of submitted work
  • instructor documentation errors in recording submitted work
  • instructor harassment, discrimination, or other misconduct
  • physical obstacles accessing resources for disabled students
  • theft, destruction, or other loss of shared study resources
  • incorrectly ordered or otherwise unavailable books and other resources
  • full lab, clinic, computer, or other schedules barring access
  • student illness, injury, or other trauma
  • student depression or other mental health issues
  • death, illness, injury, or disability of a dependent family member
  • pregnancy, childbearing, child-rearing, and other household duties
  • divorce, abuse, break up, or other relationship issues
  • alcohol, drug, gambling, or other addictions
  • job loss, income loss, or other financial reversals
  • job travel, job changes, or other job demands
  • military training or call ups
  • immigration or related legal status issues

Addressing the Causes. Recovering from an incomplete course grade isn't simply a matter of submitting the final required work. Indeed, recovering from an incomplete course grade or grades isn't primarily a matter of ensuring that the instructors and administrators recognize and process the course completions. Recovering from incomplete course grades first involves addressing and correcting the causes so far as the student is able. Otherwise, one incomplete course just leads to another. Academic work has the tendency to snowball. When a student misses one assignment or takes one incomplete grade, the extra work of catching up and correcting the incomplete impedes the student's progress on current courses and assignments. Students learn that catching up is always harder than staying current. To truly resolve an incomplete course grade or grades means fixing the underlying problem, again so far as the student is able. If your school isn't helping you address your academic issue in a way that resolves, rather than extends, your incomplete-course problem, then retain a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney to explore options.

Procedures to Request and Remove Incompletes. Colleges and universities have procedures for challenging and removing incomplete grades. The policy at the University of California, San Diego, is a good example. UC San Diego's policy first requires that the student have good grounds justifying the incomplete, beyond simply falling behind on coursework. The student must then request an incomplete grade from the instructor using the appropriate university form. If the instructor approves, the instructor will state the date by which the student must remove the incomplete. That date may be no later than the end of the following term. If the student meets the conditions of the incomplete, then the instructor has the authority to request the registrar to remove the incomplete and replace it with the student's earned grade. If you find yourself in a position to request and complete an incomplete, then be sure to follow your school's published procedures. Retain the help of an academic administrative attorney to ensure that you follow the right procedures within the required time, with an effective presentation achieving your desired administrative outcome.

Alternative Procedures. Sometimes, though, the school's formal, published procedures for requesting and removing incomplete grades do not provide a deserving student with the needed relief. Your school's published procedures are very probably not the only alternative for pursuing relief. Published incomplete-grade procedures are academic in nature. But as the above list shows, the causes of incomplete grades are often not academic causes. They could just as often involve professor or classmate misconduct, disability access obstacles prohibited under federal law, health issues, family and relationship issues, or other peculiar causes. Academic policies may not recognize these conditions for relief and may not provide appropriate forms of relief. Yet other offices within your school, like an accommodations office, student dean office, Title IX office, ombudsperson's office, or general counsel's office, may well do so. Locating, communicating, and negotiating successfully with these offices can take the assistance of a skilled academic administrative attorney. Your incomplete-grade issue may even require contact with a regulatory body or court litigation. Don't give up without retaining an academic administrative attorney to explore these and other relief routes.

Special Solutions to Incomplete Grades. College and university incomplete-grade policies, like the University of Iowa and UC San Diego policies above, tend to assume that an extension of course timelines to submit required work or take required exams will solve whatever problem led to the incomplete grade. But an extension of deadlines is not always a solution. More time may not solve your academic challenge that led to the incomplete grade. Students who require an incomplete grade may need other relief or resources in addition to the time extension. Negotiating those other forms of special relief can take more than a straightforward request from the student. Special relief often requires an academic administrative attorney's special skills and representation. These and other forms of special relief may be available to you to resolve an incomplete course grade favorably, provided you have the academic attorney representation you need:

  • the instructor's explanation and clarification of assignment requirements
  • the instructor's change in assignment or exam content or format
  • additional instructional, research, library, or study resources
  • support scheduling required lab, clinic, or computer time
  • disability accommodations extending exam time or altering conditions
  • a change in the assignment evaluator or course instructor
  • additional coursework or remedial instruction before completion
  • late course withdrawal from the incomplete course

Academic Attorney Available. If incomplete courses, grades, and assignments are threatening your academic progress, and your school won't help you resolve the problem, then you need to know that you are not without expert help. National academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped hundreds of students nationwide to recover from the threat of academic probation, suspension, or dismissal, due to incomplete courses and grades, or similar academic issues. Your particular field or level of academic study, and the point that you have reached in your program or in your pursuit of relief, don't matter. Attorney Lento has helped undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in all programs and at all levels, both before and after those students have exhausted administrative procedures. Attorney Lento and the expert team at the Lento Law Firm are here to aggressively and effectively represent you over incomplete courses and grades or similar academic matters. Call 888.535.3686 or go online to tell us about your case.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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