Arts to increase average

For the past year, consistent discussion has revolved around the grades and quality of students in the arts faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University. In February, The Cord reported that 43 per cent of first-year students were below a 5.0 grade point average (GPA), which evoked a sense of urgency in the faculty to create new initiatives.

One of those initiatives, spearheaded by the dean of arts, Michael Carroll, and the dean’s advisory council, was to raise the minimum entrance average for prospective students from 72 to 74 per cent. This proposal was discussed at the arts divisional council meeting on Sept. 16 and was approved “overwhelmingly.”

“The thinking was, we can’t go on like this, we can’t keep lowering our average to bring in more students,” explained Carroll. He also noted that the original proposal was to only raise the average to 73, but the faculty wanted to go higher and, after deciding that 75 would be too much, settled on 74.

“One of reasons we had to do something was because nearly half of all of the students that ended up with less that 5.0 at the end of the fall term … are people with an interim [high school] average less than 75,” he added.

“The thinking was, we can’t go on like
this, we can’t keep lowering our
average to bring in more students.”

—Michael Carroll, dean of arts

While it has been approved by the arts divisional council and the dean’s advisory council — which consists of associate deans, department chairs etc. — it still needs to be approved by the enrolment management council, headed by VP: academic and provost, Deborah MacLatchy. The final decision will be made in early 2012 after next year’s applicant data has been assessed.

However, some concerns have arisen, such as the potential for budgetary cuts and lower enrolment in the arts faculty next year, about making the decision to raise the cutoff average.

Carroll said that the faculty is willing to accept those potential drawbacks.

“We’re hoping collectively this will not result in much of a decline in our enrolment, but pull in more students,” continued Carroll. “But if it does result in a decline, the faculty are willing to accept that.”

Even though these drawbacks could occur, the arts faculty is hoping that by raising the minimum average will attract higher achieving students.

“We could experience some lower enrollment or difficulties in the next couple of years, but this all part of a reputation building exercise,” said Jonathan Finn, associate dean of arts and a communication studies professor at WLU. “But I think it reached a point that everyone is united in the fact that we need to do something about this.”

“The worst case scenario is short- term pain for long-term gain,” he added.

Finn noted that some of the new initiatives already implemented by the faculty might attract even more students, therefore mitigating the potential loss of students for next year’s enrolment.

MacLatchy echoed Finn’s remarks, “raising the cutoff won’t diminish peoples’ perceptions of the university and it may very well have a positive effect.”

She also mentioned that the financial situation accompanying this issue would need to be in “balance.”

“At the end of the day, we have to balance the number of students we have and the budgetary needs,” she said. “If the [applicant] pool is not large enough, it’s not only the first-year students, it can also affect the money available for upper-year students and other students in other faculties as well.”

In order for the university to make more money and sustain rising costs it would have to take in more students.

This resulted in the arts faculty lowering its minimum entrance average to 72 per cent these last couple of years.

Both Carroll and Finn felt that this was too low.

“We want all the students to succeed. The faculty in the long term will prosper the most if it can attract more and better students,” added Carroll, noting that 72 per cent was the lowest it has ever reached.

Carroll doesn’t want to stop here, and hopes that steady incremental changes continue over the years. “77 or 78 is what I might want to aim for in a few years time,” said Carroll.

Finn agreed, “I would absolutely support that. It’s part of an incremental shift that we’re going to go through. Then gradually increase it to the point that we want.”