ATHENS, Ga. -- Some 40 percent of the University of Georgia’s Class of 2014 will graduate on Friday with honors.
That’s twice the percent of students named honor graduates 15 years ago.
UGA students might be smarter today or reaping the benefits of grade inflation, but whatever the reasons, it’s going to be a little bit harder in the future for UGA students to get those Latin phrases attached to their diplomas after a recent University Council vote.
Acting on a proposal from the council’s educational affairs committee, the council adopted tougher cutoffs in a voice vote.
To graduate cum laude, students soon must achieve a 3.6 grade point average, up from 3.5 now. To graduate magna cum laude, they’ll need a 3.75 GPA, up from 3.7. The cutoff for summa cum laude will remain the same at 3.9.
According to calculations by the educational affairs committee, the changes would have cut the percent of honor graduates from 39.6 percent of the 2012 graduating class to about 29.3 percent.
Students in school now don’t have to worry about it, though. The new cutoffs won’t go into effect until December 2018.
UGA isn’t the only school where grade inflation has pumped up the number of honor graduates, nor the only one to toughen requirements in recent years.
The Boston Globe found in 2001 that 91 percent of Harvard students graduated with honors. Faculty there adopted measures that would limit honor graduates to 60 percent of a class.
Other universities have much tougher standards.
At UCLA, just 20 percent of a class can graduate with honors – top 5 percent for summa cum laude, 10 percent for magna and 20 percent for cum laude.
The University of California at Davis has a similar system, setting honor cutoffs as a percentage of the class rather than a specific GPA to achieve or exceed.
At other institutions, such as the universities of Michigan and Florida, individual schools or colleges determine qualifications for honors graduates.
“The variation among universities is tremendous,” Educational Affairs Committee Chair Rodney Mauricio told the council’s executive committee in April.
On April 23, the full University Council voted in favor of hiking the requirements as the Educational Affairs Committee proposed.
UGA engineering professor David Stooksbury didn’t think the changes went far enough. Grading standars are the same across all UGA colleges and schools, he said. Stooksbury proposed allowing for different requirements by degrees within schools, and formulas which might include a percentage cutoff rather than a specific GPA.
Stooksbury’s motion died for lack of a second.
Educational Affairs Committee members discussed whether to make new honors cutoffs even higher than those recently approved by the council. Changing the cutoff average for magna cum laude to 3.75 and for cum laude to 3.65 would reduce honor graduates to about 25 percent. But the committee rejected the idea.
But there could come a time when honors qualifications should be adjusted again, Mauricio said.
“We certainly feel this should be an ongoing discussion,” he said.