Straight A’s are useless

Knauss Hall in the summer.

I wasn’t perfect in high school.

I didn’t excel in many of my classes and couldn’t seem to find what I was passionate about. Both my GPA and standardized test scores could have been better if I had only applied myself. It used to give me a headache even considering where I might want to go to college and what I wanted to major in.

Since I stepped foot on campus for the first time in the summer of 2018, I have received an A in all 89 of the college credits I have earned, resulting in a 4.0 cumulative GPA. At first, I was optimistic that in some way my perfect GPA would make up for falling short of expectations in high school. Boy, was I wrong.

Merriam-Webster defines motivation as a force or influence that causes someone to do something. In high school, this motivation is tangible. Students who do well in high school are rewarded with lucrative scholarships and for some, admission into their school of choice. 

Where is this motivation at the next level of learning? Most universities only require students to maintain a 2.0 GPA to graduate and many employers have even admitted that they do not consider an applicant’s grades relevant to whether they will be hired or not. So does the prospect of graduation alone provide college students enough incentive to overachieve in their classes?

Students often underperform in college not because of their ability but because they have no reason to work harder than they already are. Two college graduates, one with a 4.0 and one with a 2.0, walk away with the same diploma at the end of the day. Making the grade in college just doesn’t seem to have any significant impact on the trajectory of a career.

So how can universities across the country expect stellar academic performance out of their students when there is no reward? Students are more inclined to show up and do the bare minimum that is necessary to pass their classes rather than put in the additional effort required to get an A. There must be a financial incentive to achieve in college, a system that allows students to leverage their grades for compensation.

A high school senior applying to WMU in 2020 with a 3.7 GPA can expect to receive at least $5,000 and as much as $60,000 in academic scholarship money. Transfer students seem to have a smaller pool of potential scholarship money to work with; WMU’s Community College Competitive Transfer Scholarships range from $2,500/year-$10,000/year. 

These fixed-value scholarships are generously dolled out to bright young minds in an effort to convince them to make their way to Kalamazoo. Continuing students, on the other hand, usually walk away empty handed year after year. Students who didn’t fit the bill when they sent in their application are not given another opportunity. How can a student’s value to a university be decided before they ever make their way into a college classroom? 

Providing continuing undergraduate students with the opportunity to earn or increase their scholarship allowance on the basis of academic performance at WMU has the potential to dramatically change the educational landscape of the university. Scholarships of this variety could provide college students with the key ingredient to success that has been missing for too long: motivation.

Since he stepped into office in 2017, president Montgomery has been outspoken about his desire to improve WMU’s dismal retention and graduation rates. Last year, WMU even started offering targeted completion grants meant to assist seniors who are close to graduation and at risk of dropping out. 

While this is a step in the right direction, there is more that can be done. There is no doubt in my mind that undergraduate students that have the ability to cash in their report cards for scholarship money could improve both the retention and graduation rates at WMU.

So how much does my 4.0 GPA mean to me? Close to nothing. That needs to change.

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