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Student Quality

11 May Posted by in Academics | Comments Off on Student Quality

This is the week where we join students in celebrating the achievement of graduation. At many ceremonies, we have a chance to note what individual students have accomplished, and what they are now in a position to accomplish through their next job or program of study. It’s always fun, and sometimes genuinely inspiring, to see what the combination of good students and a Mason education can generate.

It’s also just past the point at which we begin to get some sense of the qualities of the incoming class. We seem to have done very well with our prospective freshmen. We got the number we wanted (deliberately, slightly down from last year), but with additional out of state arrivals. We will see improvements in high school GPA and SAT scores, marking a fairly continuous progression over the past several years. For whatever reason — and there’s no need to avoid celebrating the University’s apparent and arguably well-deserved gains in reputation as well as the efforts of the Admissions staff — we have done increasingly well with higher-end applicants. Our honors numbers, to take one example, already substantially up this past year, will push even higher.

A few questions result. To me the most interesting involves how much higher we should try to push our on-paper student qualifications. Already we’re simply not taking many students in some high school GPA categories that provided considerable numbers just four years back. Are there costs, in terms of our educational role, in moving the bar up too high? Discussion here nestles in a set of larger issues about what the state will pay for, in terms of in-state students and reasonable numerical goals, but even aside from this there are balances to weigh.

Then there are a few faculty colleagues who continue to lament deficiencies even in our current student mix. Without question, some of our students will not have writing or quantitative capacities we feel are necessary, despite pretty good high school records. Without question, we need to continue working with schools and teachers, in our disciplines and through our College of Education and Human Development, to improve preparation. But we also must, in my opinion, recognize that we’re admitting able students, and if we need to work a bit on their capacity levels then that’s simply part of our educational responsibility. There’s some educational challenge here, but it seems to me we should welcome it. That’s one of the obvious bright sides of the qualification levels our new students clearly manifest.