In a move that comes after national trends of grade inflation, Georgetown introduced two academic changes this semester: academic transcripts that display the mean grade in each course in addition to an individual student’s grade and Latin honors calculated by percentages rather than GPA cutoffs beginning with the Class of 2017.
In the Class of 2013, 38.5 percent of seniors in the McDonough School of Business, 56.3 percent in Georgetown College, 58.8 percent in the School of Nursing and Health Studies and 64.36 percent in the School of Foreign Service graduated with Latin honors.
In the new system, which will affect current freshmen onward, the top 5 percent of a graduating class will receive summa cum laude designation, the next 10 percent will graduate magna cum laude and the next 10 percent will graduate cum laude, for a total of 25 percent of students in each undergraduate school graduating with honors — 13.5 percent less than graduated with honors last year in theMSB, which grants the distinction to the fewest graduates. In the SFS, for example, these changes will lead to a nearly 40 percent decrease in students graduating with honors.
These honors designations will be calculated based on percentiles of GPA distribution of the previous graduating class.
Currently, graduating summa cum laude requires a GPA of 3.9, while a GPA of 3.7 is needed to graduate magna cum laude and a 3.5 GPA earns cum laude honors.
Based on data from the Class of 2013, under the percentage system, graduating summa cum laude would remain relatively stable, requiring a GPA of 3.902 in the College, 3.928 in the NHS, 3.904 in theSFS and 3.835 in the MSB. The standards to graduate magna cum laude would rise from 3.7 across all schools to a GPA of 3.796 in the College, 3.803 in the NHS, 3.806 in the SFS and 3.713 in theMSB. Cum laude graduates would be the most drastically affected, with the lowest level of Latin honors requiring a 3.728 in the College, a 3.736 in the NHS, a 3.730 in the SFS and a 3.614 in theMSB compared to the standard 3.5.
Due to the curve already in place in the business school, which limits the number of students who may receive certain grades, MSB students would be the least affected by this change.
Current freshmen had varied reactions to the policy, which was not released in a campus-wide email but is available on each school’s undergraduate bulletin.
“Changing these policies is creating a lot of tension among students,” Greta Hagedorn (COL ’17) said. “That makes people think more about grades, when we should be focused on learning, not grades.”
Katie Harper (SFS ’17) concurred, believing that the change will not benefit the freshman class.
“I think it’s worse, because it creates a more competitive atmosphere and kids will feel like they need to continue to get higher and higher grades, because it’s based off the performance of other students.”
Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS ’17) pointed out that students were not consulted in the change.
“Even if we didn’t have any decision-making authority, I think discussion would have been helpful,” he said, adding that he did not think the change in the Latin honors policy was unfair, but wished that the designation would not be based on a comparison to another class.
The changes to academic transcripts to include mean course grades this semester, meanwhile, will affect students beyond the freshman class. The decision to add mean grades to transcripts stemmed from a 2008 resolution by the Main Campus Executive Faculty, a legislative body that determines academic policy, that came after a 2007 report on intellectual life. Though the 2008 resolution was never implemented, a version of the proposal was passed by the MCEF in March 2013, leading to this semester’s change, according to MCEF Chair and economics professor Ian Gale.
Data on mean grades became available on MyAccess Jan. 6, though an option to display a version of a transcript without mean grades will remain available. Mean grades are only included for classes taken beginning in fall 2013.
“The faculty is attuned to struggles with grade inflation at other institutions, and we wanted to implement an alternative transcript that provides a clearer idea of student performance. An A in a course with a mean grade of 3.5 should be seen differently than an A in a class with a 2.5 class average,” University Registrar and Assistant Provost John Q. Pierce said.
A compilation of 175 fall 2013 courses spanning all four schools found that for the vast majority of the classes, the mean grade was a B+ or A-. However, for some notoriously difficult courses such as “Management Science” in the MSB, mean grades in one section dropped to as low as a B-, at 2.647. For other courses, such as “Introduction to Cultural Studies,” the mean grade was an A, at 3.845.
The option of displaying mean grades as a method of combating — or making transparent — grade inflation stands in contrast to steps toward grade deflation taken by other universities. Princeton University adopted a policy of grade deflation in 2004, limiting grades in the A range to 35 percent of undergraduate courses — a guideline brought for re-evaluation by a Princeton faculty committee in October.
Though the move to display mean grades on transcripts will not affect actual grading, some professors are worried that the option will prove detrimental to academic camaraderie and teamwork, as students are now in more direct competition with their peers.
“I’m a strong believer that a student’s grades should not depend on other students. I get a bit leery that there might be pressure to curve the grades, which I think distorts the academic system,” Erick Langer, director of the Master of Arts in Latin American Studies, said.
In the Master of Science in Foreign Service program at Georgetown, curves have been implemented, with whatLanger considers to be negative results.
“I’m very much opposed to the grading system in the MSFS. Now students don’t want to share their information anymore,” Langer said. “I find it to be against the spirit of true intellectualism, which requires students to not only gain knowledge, but to disseminate it to their peers so that everyone learns. Otherwise, we lose the teamwork ingredient that is so important in both government and private-sector work. School, especially at a Jesuit university, should not be a dog-eat-dog experience.”
However, some students feel that the introduction of mean grades will bring parity to larger courses.
“I think it’s good, especially in a class with a lot of [teaching assistants], like some of the bigger classes. It helps TAs realize what they might need to work on, how to best get the class all on the same page,” Samin Rai (MSB ’17) said. “For instance, if one TA had a lot higher mean grade than another, they would be able to figure out something to get them all more on the same page.”