There are many things I think should change in the structure of Higher Education. I think universities should explore new strategies to reduce the cost of an undergraduate degree, that all colleges should address rape culture proactively, especially in their Greek communities and athletics departments, that affirmative action should be revised to better support people of color (I love what it has done for white women, but it just hasn’t pulled through for PoC), and that the relationship of religiously affiliated student groups to the university should be examined.
In addition to these institutional changes, I also think there are cultural changes associated with the listed issues and additional cultural shifts that should occur. In my previous post, I addressed one of these, the ‘status by exhaustion’ phenomenon, and others include the opacity of the graduate school experience to undergraduates and the expectations of the academy and those close to students on their personal relationships across their college careers.
I have more experience with some of these issues than others, so the one I’ll be writing about today is GPA requirements for graduate school. Put simply, my position is that GPA is an unreliable predictor of success in most cases. Reason one is that GPA is pretty much meaningless across time. The occurrence of “grade-creep” or “grade-inflation” is common knowledge today – that the grade curve has crawled higher and higher over time, with more and more students earning As and less and less students earning Cs or failing. The reasons frequently cited to explain this occurrence are the pressure of students and their parents on instructors, and the positive reflection of good-grades on an instructor’s teaching. Unless the minimum GPA for admittance has crept up with the grades, this is an essentially meaningless requirement.
It could be argued that earning less than a 3.0, especially in this grade-inflated world, would be an even better reason to exclude someone from graduate school, but with the huge influence of streaming in early education, obedience, knowledge of what one wants to do for a living, and field of study on a student’s grades, I simply cant believe that GPA reflects readiness to pursue a graduate education. Being someone who learns the way schools teach, is willing to follow useful rules, and who has known they’d need a PhD to do what they want to since they were 4 years old has surely advantaged me, but I don’t think it makes be that much better prepared than someone who doesn’t fit all three of these categories.
Reason two is that the actual acceptance to a university is worth so little in current application to graduate programs. I have never heard of an adviser choosing a student they’d like to have, only to have the university not accept the application. I suppose there is some tie between the ‘academic achievement’ of the student and getting an adviser’s attention, but why not leave that decision up to the adviser instead of excluding a whole subset of baccalaureate graduates up front. I have personally known a number of people who determined their junior or senior year of their bachelor’s degrees that they simply couldn’t do what they wanted to because of their grades thus far excluding them from grad schools. I think that should be up to the adviser. Additionally, universities get to charge an application fee! Why turn down a couple hundred fees here and there for students you don’t think will get in to begin with?
For these two reasons, I disagree with the minimum GPA requirement for graduate schools. I could probably go on about GPAs in other contexts, but perhaps the commentary would mean more from someone with personal experience being held back from opportunities by this system rather than just a moderately-opinionated already-graduate student.