GPA changes affect college

By Amanda Murphy

In compliance with new federal regulations, Columbia is raising its academic standards by enforcing new grade requirements for undergraduate students for the fall 2011 semester. The change has the potential to negatively affect the college’s retention rates.

Columbia recently made an alteration to its guidelines for academic standing requirements, resulting in a one-semester deadline for students to raise their grade point average above a 2.0. According to Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, the change was made because of an update in federal regulations for the Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy. The college is creating various ways, like an online system, to help struggling students raise their grades and stay at Columbia.

“I hope students will understand the implications of this change and seriousness of keeping their GPA up,” said Louise Love, vice president of Academic Affairs.

The Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy affects the disbursement of federal loans to college students. If a student is not meeting necessary GPA requirements, the federal government invokes the right to withdraw financial aid.

Columbia previously allotted four semesters to students to raise their GPA above a 2.0. However, adhering to the new federal regulations means students are allowed to have below minimum 2.0 GPA for two semesters. If an improvement is not made, the student will be dismissed from the college. Kelly, who has been at Columbia for more than 25 years, said the policy was far more generous in the past, and the college is taking measures to ensure its students are aware of it.

According to a press statement released by the U.S. Department of Education, the new SAPP regulations were made because of “audits and institutional program reviews [that] have uncovered policies that provide federal financial aid to students who do not meet institutions’ academic standards.”

As the college makes the change to a more restricted academic policy, Love said Columbia worries this will have a negative effect on its retention rates.

“We could be losing some students [who] would have been staying on for a couple [more] semesters or even able to bring their GPA up so they can stay on permanently,” Love said. “We are concerned we may lose some students because of this quick deadline.”

To ensure Columbia students are aware of their academic standing, Kelly said the college will be utilizing a new report system to track students whose GPA falls below the requirements.

Love said beginning in the fifth week of the fall 2011 semester, faculty will be able to use an online system that will alert the administration of students failing to attend class or completing required work. Columbia’s administration will then take action to ensure students receive the proper aid to maintain a GPA that would keep them in good academic standing.

“We are taking dramatic measures to make sure students are aware of the policy and getting to them early on so they have a chance of being academically successful,” Kelly said.

Love said the college has multiple resources available to students in need of academic aid. She urged students struggling with classes to utilize the Learning Studio or academic advisers for guidance in attaining grades necessary to stay at Columbia. If the student’s GPA is low because of personal issues, Love offered the counseling center as a resource.

According to Kelly, the policy is a reminder that there are a lot of changes out of Columbia’s control that impact its students. He said the most important way the college can adapt to the changes is helping its students in this new, more challenging environment.

“We dismiss about 100 students a year for academic reasons,” Kelly said. “We hope that over time, as the policy is implemented, we see numbers similar to that.”