When reading the news story “Plus/minus system not widespread on campus,” I couldn’t help but make some observations. The system, in essence, reverts to a standard grading system some colleges have implemented. Although there isn’t a consensus regarding whether TCU should use the plus/minus system, I think it would be appropriate to render a final decision on whether the system will be used. Many people believe using a plus/minus system will strengthen the academic reputation, however, there are other factors that comprise academic reputation besides a plus/minus system.
According to the latest U.S. News & World Report, TCU dropped in its rankings to No. 113 in the national universities category. While the top universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton fight to be labeled the “best college,” what do these rankings really mean? In addition, what weight, if any, is placed on a plus/minus system? Although I do not know what weight is placed on having a plus/minus system, I do know college-bound students look at the national rankings of colleges before they apply.
While criteria like “assessment by administrators at peer institutions” doesn’t translate into anything practical for prospective students, other criteria such as selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving are important. In addition to these criteria, the type of student a college admits is critical for rankings. Schools that only accept a small percentage of the students that apply are usually the most sought after. In 2007, TCU became the second-most-selective school in Texas by admitting just below 50 percent of the students who applied. According to College Board figures, however, the average SAT test score for entering TCU students is much lower than that of Rice, the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University. In addition, the retention rate was not as high as other comparable schools in Texas.
Although I don’t work for U.S. News and World Report, I am fairly certain if TCU raised the average standardized test score for students admitted, increased the freshman retention rate and remained selective, TCU would dramatically increase their national rankings. I don’t believe that implementing a plus/minus system would do much if anything to help the rankings. While some of the top universities in the nation use a plus/minus system, it doesn’t mean it is necessary to become a top university. Perhaps schools with a better ranking than TCU have higher average test scores, higher retention rates and select a smaller percentage of the students who apply. Clearly, trying to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between having a plus/minus system and academic excellence can be misleading.
Peter Parlapiano is a senior finance major from Houston.