The current situation with COVID-19 has brought to light that there has been confusion about the approvability and certifiability of Pass/Fail courses, as well as how they are treated by VA so the SAA and I felt we needed to put out clarified information regarding Pass/Fail courses. As this also relates to our co-requisite remedial/deficiency courses they have been addressed as well.

Non-punitive or Punitive…that is the question.  As you know, VA regulations do not permit payment for courses for which non-punitive grades are assignedVACO has updated the handbook with clarified definitions of punitive and non-punitive grades that are very useful in the discussion of Pass/Fail courses:

  • Non-punitive grades: “A non-punitive grade is a grade that doesn’t count as earned credit and isn’t considered in progress standards for graduation. A withdrawal after the drop period is non-punitive if it isn’t calculated into the eligible individual’s GPA or it isn’t considered in academic progress criteria like probation and suspension.  If an eligible individual withdraws after the drop period or completes the term with non-punitive grades, the non-punitive grade must be reported to VA.

Examples of non-punitive grades are an “X” (no basis for grade), “NP” (no pass), or “U” (unsatisfactory) that doesn’t count as earned credit and isn’t calculated progress standards. Grades such as P (Pass) or S (Satisfactory) aren’t calculated into an eligible individual’s grade point average, but they are counted as earned credit for graduation requirements. Since these grades count as earned credit towards graduation, they aren’t non-punitive.”

  • Punitive grades: “A punitive grade is a grade that doesn’t count as earned credit but is used in determining an eligible individual’s progress toward graduation requirements. The common punitive grade is “F”. Punitive grades, unlike non-punitive grades, factor into the progress standards (for example, GPA or earned/attempted credit standard).”
  • The main reason pass/fail courses were often erroneously determined to be inappropriate for certification is that the grade may not be factored in computing a student’s grade point average.  However, as we see in the above definitions for both punitive and non-punitive grades, the key distinction is the affect the grade has in determining progress toward fulfilling graduation requirements.  The grade’s effect upon GPA is used only as one example of an effect on graduation requirements.  Therefore, courses for which pass/fail grades are assigned may be certified if: 
    1. The course is credited toward meeting graduation requirements if a pass grade is assigned (even if the grade is not computed into GPA), and
    2. If a fail grade negatively affects the student’s overall progress toward completing graduation criteria.       

ELECTIVES: For this reason, If you have a program that has electives that allow a student to choose to take the elective P/F or as a graded course, the VA Student must take the graded option. Otherwise, if the student receives a Fail he/she could just opt to take a different elective and thus that course did not affect the student’s overall progress toward completing graduation requirements.

CO-REQUISITES: This is also the same basis for not certifying a co-requisite remedial/deficiency course when there is no consequence if the student does not pass the course.  If the student can progress without having to repeat the failed co-req then that course does not affect the student’s overall progress toward completing graduation requirements and thus is not certifiable.

  • If a Fail is received in a Pass/Fail course it must be reported as non-punitive (see page current page 83 in the SCO Handbook Non-Punitive Grades – End of Term)
  • The Fail will be treated as any other non-punitive grade received and a debt will be created from the beginning of the term if acceptable mitigating circumstances are not provided.   
      • Please make sure your students understand this important point: They can end up with a very large debt, as a P/F course that is failed is treated as non-punitive and thus may have a debt established from the first day of the term, whereas a punitive F in a graded course is automatically paid through the LDA and a prorated debt from LDA is created.
  • If the student does not complete the term the LDA must be reported as well as the Non-punitive grade.
  • If acceptable mitigating circumstances are provided the debt will be based on the student’s last date of attendance.  NOTE: Acceptable mitigating circumstances do not generally eliminate a student’s debt.  It lessens the debt, as it is calculated from the student’s LDA rather than the first day of the term.
  • If the student completed the term and has acceptable mitigating circumstances there will be no debt created, as VA pays through LDA with acceptable mitigating circumstances.
  • NCD schools that operate on a term, quarter, semester, block or unit bases are treated the same as an IHL with regard to non-punitive grades.
      • NOTE: NCD schools that certify one beginning and one ending date for the enter program are handled differently.  Students at this type of school are automatically paid through the last date of attendance so punitive vs non-punitive grades and mitigating circumstances are not a factor.
  • The FAQS for IHLs direct you to add a remark if a student failed a P/F course due to COVID-19. While P/F is going to be treated exactly the same as above during this pandemic, If this remark is added VA will automatically grant acceptable mitigating Circumstances for the Fail and the above rules will be followed.  Please see the most up to date FAQs at 
  • The FAQs also advise that you must make the SAA aware of any change in your grading system:  Please let your NC SAA program specialist know if you’re temporarily switching to P/F or other similar type classes.