College Revises Honors Standards


By Ruth Jacobs

News that the College changed the requirements for Dean's List and for Latin graduation honors left some students concerned about how the changes would affect them and whether the action was an indirect response to grade inflation.

After more than a year of deliberation, Colby changed the Dean's List standard so that, effective this fall, the top 30 percent of students ranked by the semester's grade point average qualify, assuming they meet all the other specified academic criteria. Previously the requirement was a 3.2 grade point average (3.0 for first-years).

Requirements for Latin honors changed from 3.75 (summa cum laude), 3.5 (magna cum laude), and 3.25 (cum laude), to the top 5, 10, and 20 percent of the graduating class. The Latin honors changes affect students entering in the fall of 2006 or later.

The changes resulted from comparisons with peer schools and the sense that, with almost three quarters of the student body making the Dean's List, the honor was no longer distinctive. Referring to a comment by President William Adams at an open forum about the children of Lake Wobegon, Dean of Faculty Ed Yeterian said, "All the children can't be above average. It's mathematically impossible."

Some students worried that, having made the Dean's List in previous semesters, it would look bad on their records if they no longer receive the honor, said Patrick Sanders '08, who was part of the committee that recommended the changes. But, he said, "If you expect to get this honor then we expect you to work for it."

In the old system, Sanders said, Dean's List no longer seemed like an honor. But some feel the new system favors students in certain disciplines. "It puts the science and, I could say probably the government students, at a real disadvantage," said Canaan Morse '07, an East Asian studies major. Moreover, "The underlying problem of grade inflation is what makes Dean's List a problem," Morse said. "It's false to argue [...] that the two aren't linked."

Yeterian says the changes were not a response to grade inflation, and that there are many reasons for students earning higher grades, including a more selective admissions process.

Adams tackled grade inflation at the open forum for students. "Grade inflation is one of those hugely vexing issues that faculties frankly have a lot of trouble addressing because it touches upon all kinds of intense feelings of prerogative in the classroom," he said. "I think this faculty will probably take up the issue of grade inflation reasonably soon, but that's for the faculty to decide."
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  • On January 18, 2007, A.Martin Bruehl wrote:
    I believe that students who do well should be on the deans list.It's OK if more than 30% make it..Why penallize a good student who happens to be in a student body that is very smart.Families pay a lot for a college education,and their student should be rewarded INDEPENDENT of others.It may have an impact on their careers.