Most students only have to worry about four or five grades each semester. University Registrar Jess Ray ’91, M.S. ’95, has to worry about 92,000.

That’s how many grades have to be posted by May 10. Recording grades for nearly 20,000 students is a lot easier than it used to be. When Distinguished Professor Emeritus John Freed started teaching history in 1969, each grade had to be written and initialed on an IBM card. With as many as 350 students in a section, he’d watch TV news while scribbling his initials on each one but in hindsight, “I have no idea why I did not get a rubber stamp.”

The time it takes to grade depends on the type of final, said Ray.

“The history and English faculty have writing-intensive programs so their experience is very different from somebody in the sciences.”

“It’s not an easy job; the fact that they’re able to get them in on time is appreciated.” — Jess Ray

History Professor John Reda said grading more than 100 essays requires organization and pacing. After grading about five, he takes a 30-minute break, with a goal of 25-30 essays a day. He finishes the night before the deadline so he can sleep on the borderline cases. “The borderline cases are the toughest. If I’m lucky there are only 4-5, but I’ve had as many as a dozen that were genuinely tough calls.”

Retiree Jim Jacobs worked in the Office of the University Registrar for 25 years, and recalls when faculty had to bubble in grades on Opscan sheets and line up to hand deliver them. Jacobs’ job was to look over each sheet to make sure all the bubbles were filled in and none bled over. Then he’d separate the dirty carbon forms, wiping his hands with a damp rag every 15 minutes. The closer it was to deadline, the longer the line.

“People would stand in line, switching from one foot to the other. The last couple of days it did get pretty intense. Sometimes just to lighten the mood, I’d wear a goofy hat.”

When the bubbled sheets went away, so did the faculty.

“It was sad because we no longer got to see the faculty,” he said. “This was the only time of year I’d get to talk to the people I’d only known over the phone.”

Preparing for grade posting involves more than Ray’s office. The Office of Academic Technologies, University College and Athletics all gear up for the event. Ray sends department chairs and school directors progress reports, telling them how many thousands of grades are in, and how many there are to go.

Registrars at each of the state’s 12 public universities have a friendly competition, emailing each other with how many grades are turned in on time.

“We get to brag about how well our faculty do,” Ray said. “By doing that, we’re bragging about how much they care about our students. It’s not an easy job; the fact that they’re able to get them in on time is appreciated.”

Once grades are in, his staff can finish degree audits for the 3,700 graduates who need their final transcripts for job hunts or grad school. Audits actually start months earlier with staff reviewing the records of seniors who’ve applied for graduation. If something’s missing, the student and advisor are contacted.

“It’s all about making sure we get what the student needs,” Ray said. “We’re here because we want to make people a success in this world and this is one step along the way. Now they can go out there and make a difference.”

Kate Arthur can be reached at