When graduating seniors sit on the National Mall for Commencement, some will leave GW with honors while others will have a degree. But University-wide honors – known as Latin Honors – are more difficult to achieve for students who take relatively difficult majors in science, technology, engineering and math than for students with a humanities major.
There are three levels of honors – cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude, which students across every school need a grade point average of 3.4, 3.6 and 3.8, respectively, to achieve. Obtaining a high GPA in some STEM majors is difficult, and students may struggle to achieve an academic standing that would qualify them for University honors.
Differences in the level of difficulty between majors should not limit students’ ability to earn University-wide honors. GW should modify its GPA requirements to achieve University-wide honors for each school to ensure every student has an equal chance of receiving the recognition.
Departmental honors are still available for students in some schools. In the School of Business, the top 10 percent of students are given honors by admission into Beta Gamma Sigma, the Business Honor Society. The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences allows each academic department to hand out special honors if students maintain a specific GPA. Graduating students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science do not receive departmental honors.
STEM students should have the same opportunity to earn University honors as other majors do. University-wide honors may not be deciding factors when employers and graduate programs hire or accept applicants, but they do help candidates stand out. Implementing a system that sets different GPA requirements for each school would be more fair to students in majors with relatively difficult classes.
Easing the requirements for students in more difficult disciplines is not a new idea. Six of the University’s 12 peer schools, including the University of Miami and Boston, New York, Georgetown, Tufts and Syracuse universities, allow each college within the university to create its own university-wide honors requirements based on either the past performances of recent graduating classes or the average GPA of the schools. For example, the required GPA at NYU to earn cum laude in its School of Liberal Studies is a 3.8 while students in the engineering school need to obtain a minimum 3.5 GPA. GW should implement a similar system that modifies the GPA requirement for students in difficult schools.
Some higher education experts question the importance of achieving honors, but some schools have changed their honors system to ensure more students can graduate with schoolwide honors. The number of graduating students at Northwestern University increased from 16 to 25 percent after the university decreased the minimum GPA requirement because officials wanted students to have a better chance of enrolling in a graduate program.
GW could aid its students’ chances of being accepted to graduate school or finding work by increasing the minimum GPA requirement by school for University-wide honors.
Lowering the requirements of certain schools would not lessen the accomplishments of students with a humanities or arts major because students can still receive honors for their work. Modifying the minimum requirement for difficult majors would acknowledge that STEM majors may struggle to obtain the same high GPA as their peers studying the humanities.
Students who feel pressured to maintain high GPAs to graduate with honors might also trade in courses they are interested in for a class that will be an easy A. But taking challenging classes is beneficial for students who may want to attend graduate school, even if the class might weigh down their GPA. By changing the honors requirements, STEM students can freely pursue challenging classes without worrying about retaining a high GPA.
Decreasing the required GPA for more difficult majors to achieve University-wide honors would more accurately distribute the award to students across all disciplines. Even if students only want the honor for another graduation cord or line on their resume, every student should have an equal chance to achieve the honor.
Switching to a system that changes GPA requirements for different majors makes sense for students enrolled in a difficult course load. The change would ensure that students’ hard work is equally represented across all schools and would validate those who deserve University-wide honors. It may be too late to make the change this academic year because seniors will graduate next month, but implementing a new model next academic year would give students in all majors the credit they deserve.
Michael McMahon, a freshman, is an opinions writer.