While grades should not overshadow the more meaningful goals of higher education, few would question their significance as a reflection of student effort and achievement. Grades are like currency, and grade inflation cheapens the accomplishment associated with an impressive GPA.
This GPA problem is effectively illustrated in the awarding of Latin honors at graduation. Over 50 percent of graduates from Georgetown College received some form of Latin honors, meaning that the school’s median GPA was above 3.5. In the School of Foreign Service, 62 percent of seniors graduated with honors, while around 40 percent of students in the McDonough School of Business and 60 percent of the School of Nursing and Health Studies in the Class of 2012 qualified for at least a cum laude designation.
Few would expect the accomplishment of Latin honors to be something achieved by over half of a class. While we certainly wish the best for all Georgetown students, there’s something to be said for distinguishing high achievers from the rest of the pack. The “give everyone a trophy” approach is effective for youth soccer, not honors at graduation.
Rather than a revamping of the grading system, this problem calls for a new approach to Latin honors. In short, it may be advisable to raise cutoffs for the three designations of achievement, lifting standards to align with trends in grading policies. Honors are a reflection of individual accomplishment more so than relation to other students’ work, but if they’re distributed too liberally, that recognition carries less weight.
It is in everyone’s interest to protect the integrity of academic achievement at Georgetown. Many students strive to be among the best, but that pursuit is only valuable if we are able to identify who the best really are.