Q&A: What is an Incomplete Grade?

Question: I have a friend who asked for an 'incomplete' in her online class. What does this mean?

Answer: An 'incomplete' is given to students who are unable to complete their class before it ends. Instead of receiving an actual letter grade with a value (A, B, C, etc.), the student's grade will have an "I" for incomplete. With an incomplete, students are typically given more time to finish assignments; their "I" changes to an actual grade letter when these assignments are completed. However, if the incomplete guidelines aren't met within the allotted time frame, the incomplete transfers to an "F" in the course. This means the student has failed the course and will not earn credit.

Most students who ask for an incomplete usually have encountered an emergency or an unplanned situation that has or will keep them from completing the class. Some examples are personal medical emergencies, family emergencies, and/or other unplanned events (i.e. severe illness, surgery, death, military training, etc.). Incompletes are not given to students because they started the class late, fell behind on their homework, or for planned or known events. The following are examples of situations when an incomplete is usually not appropriate: moving, vacations, regular personal, family and job responsibilities.

An incomplete has to be agreed on between the student and the instructor and is usually only given when the student is passing the course. Once it's determined that the student is eligible for an incomplete and both the student and instructor agree on the terms, an incomplete agreement is submitted to the school. In the agreement, the instructor will address the terms of the arrangement including the assignments the student must complete and when they are due. Again, if the student fails to fulfill the terms of the agreement, they do not pass the class.

Students are strongly encouraged to make every effort to finish the course without seeking an incomplete. However, if an emergency arises, an incomplete is often available and can provide the opportunity to pass a class but with more time given to catch up on assignments.

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning (Dr. Bev) has been a higher education adjunct faculty member for over 25 years. She has taught in the classroom and online for multiple colleges and universities including the University of Phoenix, Spring Arbor College, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College, and Rio Salado College. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Spring Arbor College and Mott Community College. She is currently an online instructor for ed2go.com (Cengage Learning). In addition to founding and directing the Grant Writing Training Foundation, Dr. Bev is also Vice President of Grants Professional Services for eCivis, Inc. She is the author over over 37 grant-related publications and a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter for national and regional conferences. Dr. Bev is a product of lifelong learning and an advocate for online teaching and learning!