Honors programs change requirements

College life may seem impossible as a student approaches their senior year at the University of Miami; students may stress about graduate school, finding a job, or choosing a major. Now there is one less worry for seniors – they no longer need a thesis to graduate summa cum laude or magna cum laude.

Under the old system, students wishing to graduate with summa or magna honors had to complete six credit hours to develop an individual research thesis or an approved creative project under the supervision of a faculty member.

Additionally, students had to meet a minimum grade point average to receive a Latin honor. The GPA standard for summa was 3.9, magna required a 3.75, and 3.6 was needed for cum laude.

According to the Faculty Senate Bill that recommended the changes to the requirements, the new system will “[replace] the thesis requirement with a sliding scale designed to award summa cum laude to all students with a GPA at or above the top 5% of the graduating class in their school in the previous academic year. The next 10% of the students would graduate magna cum laude and the next 10% would graduate cum laude.”

In addition, the new system calls for “floor level GPAs below which honors would not be conferred.” These floor level GPAs are the same as the old GPA standards for summa, magna, and cum laude.

For example, a student graduating in May of 2009 from the College of Arts and Sciences must have a GPA above 3.918 to graduate with summa honors. That was the cumulative average of the top 5% of the previous year’s graduating class from that department.

However, under the new system, students that wish to graduate with summa honors from the School of Communication will need the standard 3.9 even though last year’s top 5% cumulative GPA was a 3.87. A student cannot graduate summa cum laude without a 3.9.

If a student’s school set a higher standard, a student must graduate at or above that GPA.

Students enrolled prior to the Fall of 2009 will have the option of choosing the old thesis-oriented standard and the new sliding GPA scale standard for Latin honors.

During the 2006 to 2007 academic year, only 31 out of 139 students with a GPA of 3.9 or better graduated with summa honors. That is 1.29% of the total graduating class.

“The old program did not allow us to celebrate the achievements of our students,” said William Scott Green, the dean of Undergraduate Education, “For various reasons, not all students eligible for magna or summa could use the thesis option, and, in fact, the vast majority of students qualified for the honor did not receive it.”

The University of Miami was the only ACC school to require a thesis for a student to graduate with summa and magna cum laude honors.

The new UM plan, according to a findings by the Student Government Academic Affairs Committee, is similar to other universities.

“Our students are strong and accomplished as those at any other in the nation,” Green said. “These changes allow us to recognize and acknowledge that.”

He also cited the lack of faculty to supervise undergraduate theses as another reason for the changes.

Patrick Azcarate, an undeclared freshman from Miami, is skeptical of the new system, “They seem to be overemphasizing the importance of GPAs. It sounds like they’re sending out the wrong message,” he said. “When a thesis is included in requirements, it assumes you’re doing more than just studying and getting good grades. It discourages people to strive for original research.”

Still, Danny Casamayor, a senior political science major, thinks more positively of the new system.

“I believe the recent change in requirements for graduation honors is not only a terrific idea, but one that will benefit students and the University of Miami in the future. By graduating more qualified students with graduation honors, they will in turn be more attractive to potential employers and graduate schools. Consequently, the school’s reputation as a leader in academic excellence will receive even more notoriety throughout the country,” he said.