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Latin Honors program being reworked

The Education and Curriculum Committee (ECC) is reworking Carleton’s guidelines for Latin Honors, the special academic recognition students receive on their diplomas when they graduate. Currently, GPA determines the level of honors a student receives: according to the Registrar’s Office, a GPA of 3.25 qualifies as cum laude, 3.5 as magna cum laude and 3.9 as summa cum laude.  

“The problem with Carleton’s evaluation system is that grade inflation has disrupted the balance and distribution of honors,” said Associate Professor of English George Shuffleton, co-chair of the ECC. When the system was developed a couple of decades ago, it was much harder for students to earn B’s and A’s than it currently is; the GPA cutoffs were therefore much more prestigious.

According to the Registrar’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, 36.5% of the graduating class of 1982 received honors. Last year, 78.5% of seniors earned honors. Currently, more students are earning Latin Honors than at any point in Carleton’s history. 

“Now, there’s nothing special about receiving Honors,” said Shuffleton. “Instead of taking out a few special students, there’s a higher percentage of students getting honors. It devalues the honors system.”

It is now the job of the ECC to make sure that a Carleton degree means the same thing as it did 30 years ago.  Shuffleton said the committee has not settled on a solution to the problem, though it does have several tentative possibilities.

One solution is to raise the grade cutoffs. This way, the ECC could change “the cutoffs to a point where the percentage of students receiving Latin Honors is acceptable to us,” said John O’Neill ’13, a student liaison to the ECC.

Another consideration is to use a system of rankings or class percentages. This would mean something to the effect that students in the top 5% of their class would graduate summa cum laude, those in the top 10% would earn magna cum laude honors, and those in the top 20% would graduate cum laude.  Some other highly accredited liberal arts colleges use this system, including Williams College, Amherst College, and Bowdoin College.

And yet another option for Carleton’s Latin Honors program is to completely eliminate it. Some argue that the distinction is unnecessary and that having a Carleton degree is merit enough. All of this was cause for debate and was voted on during the ECC meeting this past Wednesday, where the Committee approved changing the honors system to the percentage system. The next step in the process is having the faculty discuss the proposal and decide whether or not to implement the change.

“Just to clarify, the changes made are not going to affect currently enrolled Carleton students,” Shuffleton said. “We don’t make changes in curricular policy while students are in the middle of getting their degree.”

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