Starting out college with a bad GPA isn’t just demoralizing; a few bad terms early on can threaten students’ access to federal financial aid. With the current minimum of a cumulative 2.0 GPA for all grades, students dipping below that line into academic probation face reduced or full loss of federal support.
For juniors and seniors, the need to keep their grades up to par at a 2.0 is unavoidable as a federal requirement for financial aid. But for freshmen and sophomores unsteady on their feet, the Academic Standing Committee led by Associate Dean of the College Lori Schroeder presented a possible solution to ease their way up to the 2.0 minimum.
In the new model for GPA requirements, this year’s freshmen will be held to a minimum of 1.4 in their first term, 1.5 in their second and so on until the number builds to 2.0 in the beginning of their junior year. Because federal law does not regulate minimums for underclassmen, it is possible for the college to make these changes.
Three students did not return this fall because they did not have enough financial aid. However, this figure isn’t representative of the number of students impacted.
“The other thing is that some of those students, even if they are on probation, get a somewhat reconfigured financial aid package,” Schroeder said. “So even though there aren’t all that many students who flat-out cannot come back, there are significantly more students who are financially compromised because federal and state aid is lessened.”
The gentler cumulative GPA requirement means students who fall behind early have a greater chance of not being placed on probation and are thus more likely to come back in the next year. This is a plus for the college in regards to retention, which has been struggling in recent years, and for the students who would, when unable to return, be left deeply in debt with low grades that wouldn’t transfer well to another institution.
Sophomore LucyRae Dorn, an American who lived much of her life abroad, said the cultural transition can be rough as a freshman.
“It’s hard to be an international kid here, because you aren’t used to the culture. A lot of people come in and have a really hard time starting up in college, so they can crash really hard.”
Knox isn’t alone in setting a lower GPA for freshman and sophomore students. Peer institutions such as Cornell, Luther, Grinnell, St. Olaf and others have similar programs already in place.
Some may see this changes as “lowering the bar” on a Knox education.
“You’re taking classes you might not be the strongest in, like all your required classes, [and] your GPA is going to be lowered your first few terms,” junior Holden Meier disagreed. “And I don’t think it really determines intelligence … I know very smart people who are on academic probation, who for various reasons have struggled.”
Schroeder concurred, citing personal experience on the Academic Standing Committee and national statistics as backing.
“If [students] are going to stumble it’s going to be early on in their college careers. We know that students, if they get past that struggle, can actually blossom later.”