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Dean’s list changes succeed

K. Aaron Van Oosterhout | Thursday, September 16, 2004

This coming spring the class of 2005 will become the first to graduate under the new graduation honors system, with fewer seniors receiving degree honors than ever before.Despite some student concerns, the University said it is pleased with the fall 2001 decision to raise its standards. As a result of new criteria instituted in the fall of 2001 by the Academic Council, each college will bestow graduation honors – cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude – only on those with GPAs in the top 30, 10 and 5 percent of their class, respectively. Prior to this year, any student with GPAs of 3.4, 3.6 and 3.8, received those honors.However, this should come as no surprise to students, said officials.”They’ve known since they were freshmen that this was coming,” said Dottie Pratt, assistant dean of the College of Arts and Letters.In the spring of 2001, the Academic Council decided that the previous criteria for the dean’s list were too lax. The University replaced the old criteria of a 3.4 GPA to those students with a GPA in the top 30 percent in their college. The graduation honors requirements also changed at this time.In the semester before the policy changed, each college had more than 30 percent of its students on the dean’s list, and some, like the School of Architecture and the College of Arts and Letters, had over 50 percent of students on the list.”This is done to make the honors more meaningful,” University Registrar Harold Pace said. “If half of the class is winning honors, is that a meaningful award?”Other factors also influenced the council’s decision, among them alleged grade inflation and, according to Pratt, insurance companies.”Insurance companies give breaks for dean’s list [students],” she said. If a company sees that more than half of the student body at a particular school is placed on the dean’s list, it may stop giving breaks to students from that school, according to Pratt.As for grade inflation, University administrators still debate the subject.”Grade inflation vs. smarter students, which one is right at Notre Dame?” Pace said. “I’m not sure.”According to the 2001 Notre Dame Fact Book, in the spring of 2000, when the Academic Council voted to change the dean’s honor list requirements, in 65.4 percent of Arts and Letters courses, half or more students received an A or A-minus. In the College of Engineering, half or more of students got an A-minus or higher in 45.2 percent of courses.These numbers are up from 50 percent and 19 percent, respectively, in fall 1996.Whether grade inflation or smarter students, or a combination of both, many students find the new dean’s list requirements appropriate.”I don’t think it’s a bad system, because it reflects the top tier of the current students,” said David McCormick, a junior business major. “If Notre Dame is admitting smarter and smarter students each year, the standard for the dean’s list should be raised as well.”Anne Ryckbost, a senior in the College of Arts and Letters, disagreed.”I don’t like it,” she said, “It’s frustrating when you’re shooting for something, each semester you don’t know what it will be.”Though dean’s list requirements generally change each semester, registrar does publish the upcoming semester’s GPA requirements at the start of each semester.Each year, the dean of every college must choose to post either one required GPA for the entire year, an average of the previous two semesters’ GPAs or two GPAs, each based on the previous year’s corresponding semester.This fall, for instance, the GPA requirement for the College of Arts and Letters is 3.765, and the spring requirement is 3.778. The GPA requirement for the College of Science is 3.745 for the entire year. “We elected to move to separate ones for fall and spring because we are a large college and because we noticed a real difference in GPA between the two semesters,” said Pratt of the College of Arts and Letters. “We felt it was more equitable to recognize the difference.”The other two colleges that use two distinct GPAs are the First Year of Studies and the College of Engineering.Requirements for graduation honors for the senior class will be made available this January, Pace said. “The Latin Honors for May 2005 graduation will be determined in January based upon seven semester totals (after the Fall 2004 semester) for each college,” said Pace. “At that time we will determine and publicize the required GPAs for Latin Honors in each college.”