Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The GPA Shuffle

An occasional correspondent dropped a line to ask about students who switch majors specifically to get certain courses dropped from their GPAs. At my cc, students have to get signatures from both faculty advisors and deans if they want to switch majors, so I see a lot of these.

Although it’s annoying when students are brazen about gaming the system, I’ll admit to some sympathy for the kid who switches from Nursing to Early Childhood when she realizes that the lab sciences are beyond her. Last year I wrote about a student I had advised, whom I called Otto, who had bombed badly in several semesters of Criminal Justice classes. When he got to me, I asked him why he kept doing badly, and he responded “I hate that shit.” So I asked him what he liked, which turned out to be psychology. When I asked why he kept majoring in CJ, he got that blank look that students sometimes get when they just plain hadn’t thought of that. The fact that he was able to get a fresh start when he switched struck me as reasonable.

(As it happened, he did relatively well after that, and eventually graduated and transferred.)

I’m as much of a stickler for academic integrity as anybody else, but I’ll also admit that part of the mission of a cc is to provide second (and third, and fourth) chances. Sometimes an 18-year-old will guess wrong, when it comes time to pick a major. Allowing that student to wipe the slate clean and start over again with newly earned grades seems fair to me.

Where it gets frustrating is with majors that are right next door to each other, in curricular terms, and the kid is just trying to dodge a requirement. But it’s tough to have a consistent rule on that, and a certain amount of gaming is inherent to any system. So I’ll admit that this particular shuffle bothers me less than many others.

What do you think?