Kent State Researcher Studies Impact of COVID-19 on College Student Performance

Lock Reynolds

KENT, Ohio – Research conducted by Kent State and Illinois State faculty found that a COVID-19 diagnosis lowered same-semester GPA for students at a state university.

C. Lockwood Reynolds, Ph.D., professor of economics at the Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship, along with co-author Timothy Harris, assistant professor of economics at Illinois State, studied data provided by a large public university to help better understand how a COVID-19 diagnosis affected student success in higher education. While the impacts of the pandemic on higher education have been widely studied, the researchers wanted to determine the impact of a COVID-19 diagnosis on student performance. Reynolds and Harris found that a diagnosis had a small but similar impact on GPA as other illnesses and bereavements.

“That is despite the fact that the flexibility of online courses should have limited the consequences, so a COVID diagnosis in an in-person environment would be more consequential,” Reynolds noted.

Further, the researchers found that a COVID-19 diagnosis had a more negative impact on male students, students in online classes and among students with higher pre-pandemic GPAs. The research also documented a substantial amount of grade inflation during this time.

“Some of this is formal (allowing students more pass/fail options early in the pandemic) but much of it is ‘informal,’” Reynolds said. “That means that either faculty were being more flexible about due dates (which anecdotal evidence suggests), the expectations of students in courses decreased, students performed better in an online environment (which research does not consistently show) or there was more widespread academic dishonesty in the online environment (which some research supports).”

Reynolds hopes these findings will encourage academic institutions to examine policies and course offerings more closely moving forward.

“I think institutions tried to do their best in those challenging circumstances. But I expect that as universities carefully examine the choices that were made, it will be clear in hindsight that some choices may not have been ideal. They can discuss whether pass/fail policies are appropriate, which policies would be beneficial to students with outside emergencies and whether courses are being offered in a format that is optimal for future student success.”

A future area of research for the team, according to Reynolds, is gaining a better understanding of how health crises in the household affect individuals during high school and college.

“While institutions have many policies relating to students experiencing outside shocks, such as health issues or bereavement that could negatively impact student academic performance, there is not much statistical research showing how much those things matter and for which students,” he said. “Knowing the magnitude and the distribution of these effects across students is critical for implementing optimal policies in universities around these issues.”

About Kent State University’s Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship

Kent State University’s Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship is among the fewer than 1% of business schools worldwide to obtain dual accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB) in both business and accounting. The college offers 11 undergraduate majors, 14 minors, and an undergraduate Professional Sales Certificate; master’s degrees in accounting (online), MBA (executive, in-person and online), business analytics (in-person and online) and economics; four graduate certificates; and a Ph.D. program. For more information about Kent State’s Ambassador Crawford College of Business and Entrepreneurship, visit


Joni Bowen

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POSTED: Monday, December 12, 2022 03:45 PM
Updated: Monday, March 20, 2023 02:50 PM