By Anna Mann
The Academic Standards Committee and Curriculum and Academic Policy Committee (CAPC) recommended that the faculty discuss eliminating the 4.33 weight of an A+ grade beginning in the upcoming school year of 2019-2020. In a regular faculty meeting, the grading change passed. However, the transition will not retroactively modify the weight of a student’s cumulative GPA, as the change will only affect grades assigned during and after the semester of Advent 2019.
According to the chair of the College Standards Committee, Associate Dean of the College Alexander Bruce (C’89), the proposal has been discussed for nearly three years. Bruce clarified that faculty will have the option to assign students an A+ grade, which will appear on their transcript, but it will be weighted the same as an A at 4.0.
The proposal states that this change is expected to help curb grade inflation, prevent disparity between departmental GPA averages, and bring Sewanee up to par with its contemporary colleges in terms of the legitimacy of its grades. Since Sewanee is one of three remaining universities out of 16 peer institutions yet to move away from the assignment of a 4.33 GPA, much of the administration felt ready to make the transition.
According to Dr. Bill Engel, member of the Standards Committee and professor of English, the transition will serve to equalize the discrepancy between departments, whose assignment of the A+ ranges from 0 to 29 percent.
This imbalance links to the high rate of grade inflation that could lead to a disparity of the recognition of Latin Honors between departments. Based on a review done by the Standards Committee, the average GPA has increased yearly since the 1980s, when only 18.6 percent of students achieved qualification for honors with a GPA of 3.5 or higher. However, by 2010 and on, 44.7 percent of students had been recognized for honors.
“[The change] does our students a service since their grades will be more legible,” explained Engel. “The only people it’s really affecting are those that want to be the first or second in the class.”
Bruce believes there will be a positive effect for students planning to apply for graduate programs, stating, “The world thinks of a 4.0 GPA, and when someone has something greater than a 4.0, people look at you sideways. The registrar has had to recalculate grades when submitting information for a particular cause. [Now] students don’t have to explain why their grades look different.”
According to Student Government Association Senator Molly Hoeffler (C’21), the change will have little effect on the student population at large. Hoeffler is on a committee that deals with academic policies and has worked with the CAPC during the proposal for the grading change.
Regarding the change, Hoeffler stated that “professors rarely give A+’s, so I don’t think it’ll be that big of a change. It will be easier when applying to grad schools because we don’t have to recalculate the GPA.”