Too many star students

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Author: Jill Boruff '02

It used to be that a high grade-point average was all that was needed to make the Dean’s List or graduate with honors at Notre Dame. Not anymore.

Concerned that the honors were losing their meaning because so many students were attaining them — and that it appeared easier to earn honors in some colleges than others — the University has decided to switch to a percentage-based system.

Starting with this fall’s freshman class, students whose cumulative GPA ranks in the top 5 percent of students in their particular college will graduate summa cum laude; those in the next 10 percent will earn the distinction of magna cum laude; and the next 15 percent will graduate cum laude. The former qualifications ran strictly according to GPA: 3.8, 3.6 and 3.4. There was no element of competition and no consideration given to the college in which you were enrolled.

New criteria for making the Dean’s List also will take effect with this year’s freshmen. In the past, a GPA of 3.4 or better for a semester qualified one for the Dean’s List. Now each college will examine its students’ grades from the previous semester and identify the minimum GPA that was required to rank in the top 30 percent. That GPA will then become the standard for making the Dean’s List in the current semester.

Led by Arts and Letters College Dean Mark Roche, several council members of the University’s Academic Council had expressed concern about the trend in honors. They felt the distinctions had lost their luster because too large a portion of the enrollment was qualifying for them. Last fall, for instance, 57 percent of Arts and Letters students made the Dean’s List. Nearly half (42 percent) of the Class of 2001 graduated either summa, magna or cum laude.

The revisions do not specifically address the issue of so-called “grade inflation” — the notion that today’s students are making higher marks because instructors aren’t as demanding as in the past. A study by the University’s Institutional Research department concluded that the increased number of As are a consequence not of easier grading but of students with stronger academic qualifications enrolling at Notre Dame.

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