Academics glossary

See terms related to: Programs, Degrees, Academic units, Grades, Students, and Tools

Academic Term

A timeframe in which actual academic activity takes place. Terms contain courses, which in turn contain students, who in turn earn credits, grades, etc. Most of the information in Populi ties in some way to an academic term—not just academic information, but also admissions, billing, and financial aid.

Academic Year

A timeframe containing academic terms and defined by the start date of the earliest term and the end date of the latest term. Academic years span calendar years; that is, they typically begin late in the summer of one year and conclude about the same time next year—for example, August 12, 2024 to August 10, 2025. Schools that rely heavily on Federal financial aid generally align their academic years with the Federal aid year, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

In Populi, academic years define degree requirements and grade scales (you can also define a grade scale for a term). Owing to the timeframe of the Federal aid year, they also determine, in part, how your financial aid applies to student charges.


A course of study with a single GPA and transcript. In Populi, programs:

  • Organize courses and degrees into distinct courses of study with unique units, grade scales, honors, standings, tuition schedules, and so on.
  • Circumscribe a student's course of study to include only those courses and degrees connected to that program.

Courses and degrees can be associated with more than one program. A student's transcript is defined by their active program(s). Courses will map to particular programs and grades will display according to their program's grade scales (which may differ from that course's program grade scale).


The classification given to a degree-seeking student attempting to progress through a course of study. Standings are defined at the program level by the minimum units required to attain that standing. The most common standings in a college setting are Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior.

To get a particular standing, a student must have earned at least the minimum number of academic units defined by that standing's program.


Recognition of a student's attendance and/or performance in a course or other instructional setting that can be applied towards the achievement of a degree.

There are two kinds of units in Populi: credits and hours. Courses may be worth either credits or hours. Students receive one or the other depending on their program's units.

Typically, a course's hours refer to the number of hours of instructional time in a given week. For example, an English course that meets for a two-hour lecture on Monday and a one-hour review on Thursday would be worth three hours.

Cumulative Units

The number of units a student has earned in a particular program. Cumulative units may include:

  • Resident units: units earned from courses the student has passed while at your school
  • Transfer units: units earned at other schools and institutions that you have accepted to count towards your own academic program

When a distinction must be made between resident and transfer units, cumulative units are marked Cumulative Units (Incl. Tr.) or something similar.

Attempted Units

The number of units for which a student has enrolled in a given academic term.

Earned Units

The number of units which a student has earned by passing courses in a given academic term.

Clinical Hours

Also called attendance hours. A variable type of academic unit derived by dividing a course's total possible hours by a student's attendance percentage. For example, if a student has been marked present for 90% of the meeting times in a 10-hour course, he will earn 9 clinical hours.

Read more about setting up and using clinical hours.

Grade Scale

A matrix which defines letter grades, their corresponding number/percent grade value, and their grade points. There are regular grade/letter scales as well as Pass/Fail grade scales.

Global grade scales are defined by academic year or term in Academics > Setttings.

Program-specific grade scales are defined in Academics > Programs (these also require you to choose an academic year or term).


Stands for grade point average. Grade points are defined in the grade scale and range in value from 0.00 to 4.00. Grade scales define how letter and number/percent grades are translated into grade points.

The GPA is calculated by multiplying the grade points by the number of attempted credits for each course, summing the results, and then dividing by the total number of attempted credits. Here is a simple example:

  • Your grade scale says an A is worth 4.00 grade points and a B is worth 3.00 grade points.
  • A student gets an A in a three-credit course and a B in a four-credit course.
  • (4.00 x 3) + (3.00 x 4) = 24.00
  • 24.00 ÷ 7 = a GPA of 3.43

There are two kinds of GPAs:

  • Term GPA: calculated from the student's performance during the academic term
  • Cumulative GPA: calculated from the student's cumulative grade points and cumulative attempted credits (minus any retaken courses not taken for credit)

This video gets into GPA calculations.


A course or assignment in which enrolled students receive one of two grades: P or F (or whatever's established in the appropriate pass/fail grade scale). Depending on the "Affects GPA" settings in the catalog course, the course grade will affect the student in the following ways:

  • Pass affects GPA: the student earns units towards his degree, and 4.00 grade points are factored into his GPA calculation.
  • Pass does not affect GPA: the student earns units towards his degree, but enjoys no benefit towards his GPA.
  • Fail affects GPA: the student does not earn any units, and 0.00 grade points are factored into his GPA calculation.
  • Fail does not affect GPA: the student does not earn any units, but his GPA is not damaged by the failure.


The academic awards you give to students who complete a course of study at your school. They include everything from standard 2-year, 4-year, and graduate degrees to post-secondary awards and certificates. The optional attributes of a degree are specializations (majors and minors) and a diploma.

Degree Level

A basis of recognition defined by the duration or amount of work required to earn the degree. For example, the Associate's level typically indicates the successful completion of two academic years of full-time study; the Bachelor's level indicates four years of such.

Populi's degree level options are the same as those described in the IPEDS definitions.


An area of emphasis within the course of study for a particular degree. Specializations are better known as majors and minors. For example, you might offer a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities with majors in English, Antiquities, Foreign Languages, and History.

Specialization requirements complement degree requirements. If you require 128 cumulative earned credits to earn a Bachelor of Arts, you might define 96 credits' worth of core course requirements and 32 credits' worth to each major.

Requirement Year

The academic year as of which a particular set of degree requirements are in effect. Degree requirements carry forward through subsequent academic years until a new requirement year is defined. For example, in 2020-2021, you require 128 cumulative credits to earn a Bachelor of Arts. In 2024-2025, you begin offering majors and minors and you require B.A. students to pursue a specialization to earn the degree.

Requirement years determine what your students must complete in order to earn the degree based on when they first began pursuing it. A student who pursued the B.A. in Fall 2022 would be held to the 2020-2021 requirement year; a new B.A. student entering in Fall 2024 would be held to the 2024-2025 requirements.

Student Status

The relationship of a student to a particular course. A student may be enrolled, auditing, withdrawn, incomplete, or waitlisted.

Read more about student status definitions.

Full-time student

In Populi, any student whose term attempted units meet or exceed the full-time threshold as defined by their primary program.

The IPEDS definition of full-time student is more particular; you might do well to follow that guideline when you set up your own full-time thresholds.

First-time student

Any student with no prior postsecondary educational experience enrolled for the first time as an undergraduate at your school. This includes students who have completed advanced standing courses in high school or were enrolled in a postsecondary institution in a summer term directly preceding the fall academic term.

Degree Audit

An evaluation tool that tracks a student's progress towards your school's degrees that helps the registrar, advisor, and student make decisions about the next steps to take. The audit compares the student's academic history and performance with your degrees' requirements (both general and course).


The official academic history of a student showing the students' courses, when they were taken, what grades he received in each, and term and cumulative totals for attempted units, earned units, and GPA. Because transcripts are meant to track individual courses of study, Populi maintains a separate transcript for each of a student's programs.


An organizing category for catalog courses.


An award for or recognition of academic achievement irrespective of completion of a course of study. In Populi, honors can be applied to students on the following levels: By Program, By Degree, By Term, and By Student. Read more about honors.

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