Virginia Tech undergraduate students achieved a slightly higher overall grade point average this past fall than they had in the fall 2019 semester. According to data from the Office of Analytics and Institutional Effectiveness, the university average GPA was 3.29 for the fall 2020 semester compared to the 3.19 GPA students averaged in fall 2019. This trend in average GPA was also seen among the university’s underrepresented, Pell-eligible and first-generation students.

For most Virginia Tech colleges, average student GPAs in the majority of subject areas also increased slightly and were seen among students in each undergraduate class level (freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors). Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on in-person teaching and learning, and the need to modify course modalities, faculty and academic advisors have focused on working together to create shared processes and opportunities that allow students to progress in their studies while mitigating the overall effect on academic performance.

“As anticipated, these data confirm that in general the academic performance of students this fall did not decline relative to the previous year,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke. “This is very good news as it indicates that students were still able to make good academic progress towards completing their degrees. This performance could not have been accomplished without additional effort from students, faculty, and advisors.”

In addition to the rise in average GPA, Virginia Tech undergraduate students as a whole earned slightly more academic credit during the fall 2020 semester as compared to the same period in 2019. Students earned 14.66 credit hours this past fall versus 14.56 earned in the fall 2019 semester. The rise in average credit hours earned for the fall semester was also seen among Pell-eligible (14.27 in 2020 from 14.22 in 2019) and first-generation students (14.27 in 2020 from 14.15 in 2019). A slight decrease occurred among underrepresented students (14.23 in 2020 from 14.27 in 2019).

Faculty and university administrators have worked closely together to help prepare and position students to be successful in their studies in the midst of the pandemic. Grading and course completion strategies were developed that accounted for the challenges students faced during the fall semester, and the impact that grade and course completion decisions could have on the students’ GPAs and permanent academic records. The deadline for dropping courses was extended for the fall semester to allow experiencing course performance and/or completion challenges to drop a course rather than use the “W” grade option.

In close consultation with and on the advice of faculty, the university opted not to offer an alternative grading system for students for fall 2020 so as to ensure the university maintains academic rigor and preserves the strength, integrity and value of a Virginia Tech degree.

“As university faculty and on behalf of our students, it was important that we took into consideration the impacts that alternative grading could have on their fall semester GPAs and their competitiveness for future scholarships, awards, and acceptance into graduate schools and programs,” said Faculty Senate President Eric Kaufman. “I believe the GPA comparison data shows that we made good decisions and, in partnership with our administration, have put our students in a position to continue the pursuit of their degrees and achieve their academic goals.”

Both faculty and university administrators recognize that significant challenges related to the pandemic remain and will continue to emerge throughout the spring semester. Providing the flexibility for students to manage their course loads and selections, and to balance academic pursuits with proper support for physical, mental, and financial wellbeing remains a focus for the Virginia Tech community.

“Along with academic performance and success, it is important that we continue to support students in all aspects of their college experience and in their timely progress to degree completion,” said Rachel Holloway, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs. “Students and their families are making important decisions that include the short-term and long-term financial impacts of continuing their college careers. We are focused on providing them with the resources, opportunities, and support to be successful and complete their degrees without unnecessary delays.”

Virginia Tech faculty, advisors, and academic administrators remain connected and in consultation with one another to provide students with critical information and support throughout the spring semester. They will continue to advance and enforce health and safety protocols and encourage the university community to remain vigilant with these measures even after vaccinations are administered to the general campus population.

Virginia Tech’s spring 2021 semester begins Jan. 19 with online instruction and continues Jan. 25 with in-person and hybrid instruction. The university has established five individual spring break days (Feb. 5 and 25, March 17, and April 6 and 26). Faculty have been informed that no classes, assignments, or assessments should be conducted on these days. Classes will end on May 5 with final examinations scheduled for May 7-12.