Drawing the Line: The ambiguity of the Grade Point Average

Robert Showah
Opinion Editor

The Two-Year College Transfer Grant program has served Virginia well since it became law in 2007. It’s simple: if a student attending a Virginia community college maintains a 3.0 grade point average while pursuing an Associate’s degree, they are guaranteed admission into any four-year college or university in the commonwealth. This past legislative session, Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, proposed lowering that GPA requirement, spurring a debate about the role GPAs play in higher education.

Those fearful of the bill’s passage have nothing to worry about as Sen. Stosch’s bill was killed in the House Appropriations committee.

I remember first hearing about the bill and being infuriated to hear that Sen. Stosch wanted to reduce the requirement from 3.0 to 2.5. As a former one-year community college student, I was concerned the proposal would devolve higher education standards and prematurely place ill-prepared students into four-year institutions. I also thought the incentive of allowing to choose the Virginia institution one desired to attend ought to be earned by garnering a higher GPA than 2.5, or even 3.0.

There were also other potential detriments to this bill. First, because the requirement would be reduced, it would entail four-year colleges to admit more people they may not want to accept because of their own institutional standards. Second, according to the fiscal impact reported on the bill it would cost too much to provide for the additional eligible students for the program. Finally, critics say it would – as mentioned before – potentially do harm to the tradition of “earning” admittance into a four-year institution.

Days went by, and I thought about this bill some more and arrived at a different conclusion than my initial thoughts.

This bill’s passage would have greatly tested the honesty and accuracy of the GPA scale and likely compromised this seemingly intuitive trust those in academics hold in it.

Those worried about the half-point reduction can consider these points.

First, while community colleges are not as rigorous with their expectations, they are still credits and time. They ought to not be discounted because of the low-status reputation community college’s receive. Students who posses true desire and motivation to learn will not halt their efforts at a 2.5 GPA. For example, students aspiring to attend William and Mary will be smart enough to know that they need to aim higher than a 2.5 GPA, assuming we are trusting the accuracy of the GPA scale.

Second, this would further help financially disadvantaged students and their families who may also attend poor schools to still have an affordable path to a four-year degree. Many poor schools have students with high academic potential but low scores due to ill-equipped or bad teachers.

Universities opposed to the program due to their standards should concentrate more on educating those willing to learn and pay into their university than over-concentrating on maintaining a particular reputation too many have come to rely on, all of which are meaningless. In terms of the cost in providing for these students under the bill, this is where dirty politics enters.

All bills receive a fiscal impact statement to determine how much they will cost the state. This bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee not so much for the fiscal statement but because it was known that it would certainly die there. In fact, the funds that would have been required to provide for the additional eligible students were already distributed in the state budget two years ago. Sometimes, bills die for no reason. I anticipate Sen. Stosch will reintroduce the bill next session.

When considering the bill here, one must remember that GPAs by no means measure intelligence or capability, but rather motivation and effort. At what particular number is a student, after spending two years at a community college, believed to be capable of excelling at a four-year institution? There is no conclusive figure. This in itself explains the ambiguity of using numbers to define students. Then again, the line must be drawn somewhere, anywhere.

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