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Fall 2008


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Gypsy Denzine

All About Incompletes

At some point, most instructors will be asked by a student for an “incomplete” in their course. In making a decision whether or not to grant an incomplete (I) or in-progress (IP) grade it is important to know the policy. This article begins with an overview of the NAU in-progress and incomplete grade policy, followed by some issues to consider and tips for instructors when I/IP issues arise.

Overview of Policies

In-Progress Grade

            Normally, a grade of IP is used only for graduate courses. The IP grade is used for courses that, by their content and requirements, normally require more time than the term or session for which the student has enrolled. For example, thesis (699), dissertation (799), and independent study (697) courses may be appropriate for an IP grade. 

            Graduate students may complete IP grades until the time limit on their academic plan expires. Undergraduate students must complete the work for an IP grade within two calendar years from the end of the term in which they took the course. If the student does not complete the work by that time, the IP grade becomes permanent and may not be changed.

Incomplete Grade

            Students who are unable to complete coursework in a scheduled course within the term in which they are enrolled may petition the instructor to receive a grade of incomplete. If the instructor agrees to allow the student to take an incomplete, the student and the instructor must complete a written agreement, a copy of which is held in the departmental file, indicating the exact work the student needs to do to finish the course. The written agreement must also indicate the date by which the student must complete the work, and that date cannot be longer than one calendar year from the end of the term in which the student was enrolled in the course. For undergraduates, after one calendar year, any grade of incomplete will automatically be converted to a grade of F. For graduate students, any grade of incomplete becomes a permanent incomplete after one calendar year.

            Faculty members should record the “I” at the time the final grades for a course are submitted. When the student completes the coursework, the instructor submits a final grade to the Registrar’s Office using the Change of Grade form. After the time for making up the incomplete has elapsed, students must re-enroll in the course to receive credit. When a student becomes eligible for graduation, if he or she has a grade of I in any courses that aren’t required for graduation, the student may elect to graduate with these I grades as a part of his or her permanent academic record. In such cases, the I grades cannot be changed after graduation by completing the course requirements, nor will the Is revert to F grades. Incomplete grades are not used in calculating students’ grade point averages.

The full I/IP grade policy is available at:

Tips for Instructors

  • Faculty members should ensure a student is making satisfactory progress in the course prior to giving a grade of IP.

  • It is important to put a statement in the syllabus about I/IP grades. Providing the URL link to the I/IP policy contained in the online Academic Catalog is recommended. It may be useful also to highlight that requests for I/IP grades must be made to the instructor prior to the end of the term.

  • Students will often ask for an incomplete with the hope of being able to resubmit work, retake an exam, receive extra time to complete assignments, and/or earn extra credit. None of these examples are justification for granting an incomplete. Noting in one’s syllabus that incompletes are granted in situations in which factors outside of the student’s control interfered with his or her ability to complete the course requirements within the term can prevent unjustified incomplete requests. Students who request an incomplete due to a situation beyond their control (illness, death of family member, job transfer) may be asked to provide written documentation of the situation necessitating the incomplete request.

  • Some students may ask for an incomplete due to workload. For example, they found it difficult to balance their employment and school work. Busy and demanding schedules and workload are not justification for granting an incomplete. Faculty members who grant incompletes due to workload demands are essentially providing one student with extra time to complete assignments. This type of situation can be problematic because other students could claim they were treated unfairly by not being offered extra time to complete the course.

  • Because they are sometimes complicated situations, some incompletes evolve into a grade appeal situation. Thus, faculty members are encouraged to keep good documentation of all student communications related to the student’s incomplete request and fulfilling of the incomplete written agreement.

  • A student may have developed a pattern for asking for an incomplete. If this situation occurs, it can be any opportunity to intervene and have a conversation with the student about time management, workload, and/or self-regulation.

  • Most faculty members will encounter the situation in which a student who is dissatisfied with his or her grade will request an incomplete after grades are posted. It is important for students to understand incompletes are not granted so that a student can have an opportunity to improve a grade in a course.

  • Finally, even when a student’s request for an incomplete is justified, the faculty member must consider the timing of the academic term. If near the end of the term, an incomplete can allow a student who has a legitimate reason for an incomplete to complete the course. If it is not near the end of the term, most likely the faculty member should encourage the student to withdrawal from the course and repeat the course at a later time.

— Gypsy Denzine, Associate Dean, College of Education