Sean Redding: Are GW students making the grade?

Last week, the entire GW community discovered the sad truth about our school: It’s getting dumber. Well, maybe.

Members of a committee in the Faculty Senate recently released a report entitled “The Decline in Elite Freshmen Admission” which highlights an enrollment decrease for students with strong academic records. Of course, high levels of intelligence do not always translate cleanly into high SAT scores, so I don’t believe the findings of the report merit The Hatchet’s headline claim that intelligent students are decreasing at GW. Still, the report does demonstrate that the University must address the status of merit-based aid and the state of faculty-administration relations.

Last year, the administration announced its decision to cut merit-based scholarships in favor of increased financial aid. At a school like GW, financial aid is more than just important, its vital. For me, the final decision to attend GW was highly based on the large need-based aid package I received, and many students were in similar situations. Aid packages help to offset GW’s high cost for a number of students, and University President Steven Knapp is right to continue down the path of increasing affordability through financial aid.

But the potential negative consequences of the decision to cut merit aid are already being seen, as the report outlines. If GW doesn’t attract the most academically gifted students, the school cannot possibly compete with other institutions of higher education in terms of rankings. Merit scholarships also provide additional support for students with financial need.

When addressing affordability, Knapp needs to look seriously at the possibility of restoring substantial merit aid. The GW student body is what makes the campus a great environment for learning and living, and it’s essential that the University attract and support the students who make up that community.

Taking the Faculty Senate report seriously would also be an important step in improving faculty-administration relations, the other major problem brought to the surface by the report. Don Parsons, a professor of economics, told The Hatchet that the administrators who commented on the report were already skeptical of its claims.

Healthy skepticism is one thing, but disregarding a serious report from a faculty committee without proper exploration of its conclusions sounds like an ugly leftover from the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg years, a kind of Dark Age for faculty-administration relations. Since taking office, Knapp has worked on improving relations with the Foggy Bottom community, the Student Association and other student organizations. It’s time he takes the lead on improving relations with the faculty. The way to start is by taking these concerns seriously.

Finding the money to restore merit aid could be a problem, but an open discussion among top administrators and members of the Faculty Senate is likely to prove fruitful. The bottom line is that last year’s merit scholarship cuts are a major concern for the administration, faculty and, most notably, students – both current and prospective. An issue with such a wide reach deserves an enormous amount of attention.

There probably is a solution for the problems identified in the report, possibly a compromise between increasing affordability through financial aid and continuing to attract the academically talented. The administration will not find that compromise if it’s not willing to look.

Current GW students can rest easy in knowing that our intelligent classmates aren’t steadily disappearing, after all. But we should take an active role in pressuring the University to recognize the concerns of the Faculty Senate report and address the importance of merit-based aid.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in history and political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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