The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an array of stressors that affected college students. We hypothesized that student performance was negatively impacted by the circumstances of the pandemic and some demographic groups suffered larger decrements than others. To address this, we collected institutional grade data from all students at Iowa State University in the COVID-19-impacted fall 2020 (F20) semester and compared them to a comparison group (CG) which included all students at the institution from 2015-2019. Surprisingly, final grades were 0.21 GPA points higher in F20 compared to the CG (p < 0.001) across the undergraduate population. Grades were higher within American Indian (p = 0.02), African American (p = 0.002), Hispanic (p < 0.001), and Asian (p < 0.001) subgroups in F20 when compared to the CG. The underlying reasons are unclear and despite the collective stressors experienced by students associated with COVID-19, student performance improved in F20 compared to previous years.

Keywords: pandemic, grades, COVID-19, stress