When you ask many current students why they chose to attend Case Western Reserve University, one of the most common responses is a sheepish look and an admission that “they gave me the most money.” Some of that money comes from school or federal financial aid, but CWRU also provides substantial merit scholarships.
Up until now, those scholarships always came with a stipulation: You can only keep the scholarship as long as you keep proving your merit.

As reported in this week’s News section, the Faculty Senate Committee on Undergraduate Education (FSCUE) is considering changing the requirements for keeping a merit scholarship. Currently, students must maintain a GPA of at least 2.0 with at least 12 credit hours per semester to maintain their scholarships, and they are allowed only one single-semester leave of absence (though they can petition to keep their scholarships despite not meeting these criteria). In the change currently being considered, the university would drop the grade requirement and allow students to take a one-year leave from the university while still maintaining their University, Bolton and Michelson-Morley scholarships. Other university scholarships have their own terms set by individual whose endowment created them.

Previous to this possible change, the committee made drastic alterations to the policy for those matriculating in CWRU in and after Aug. 2011. The amendment lowed the required GPA from a 3.0 to 2.0 and added a clause that students may regain their scholarships automatically after a semester if they return to good academic standing.

As a whole, The Observer staff overwhelmingly agrees that this was an excellent change. Rather than punishing students who choose to use their university-recognized merit to pursue academically challenging programs, as a minimum 3.0 GPA (B-average) requirement arguably did, the current policy provides a more reasonable baseline. The addition that students may regain their scholarships after a semester is likewise beneficial. Students’ circumstances (family, health, personal or otherwise) can change frequently and dramatically over the course of their college educations, so whatever was holding their grades back last semester may be a thing of the future. The Observer applauds CWRU for making a change that supports the needs of the students.

Consensus on the changes currently under discussion has been a more difficult for The Observer staff to reach.

On one hand, students who have put in enough hard work through high school to be awarded one of these scholarships should, in theory, not need a threat of imminent bankruptcy hanging over them to keep working hard. Also, these GPA requirements end up applying primarily to freshmen and sophomores who have simply not yet managed to catch up to the college workload or students of any grade who are suffering from health issues and are thus not able to keep their grades up.

However, after much debate, and consideration that a 2.0 GPA is only a C-average, The Observer’s editorial board does not feel that a change to the current policy’s GPA requirement is needed. We are pleased with the changes that were made in the 2011 revision and would welcome the opportunity for students to take a year off without forfeiting their scholarship. However, we feel that maintaining a 2.0 (C-average) is not something that most students would consider to be particularly challenging. If this requirement is taken away entirely, merit scholarships through all four (or, with allowances for a leave of absence, more) years could be left dependent on how generously a student’s high school curved grades or how little competition an individual had when running for club presidencies their junior year. There would be little “merit” in these merit scholarships.

Another thing to consider when determining the fairness of the 2.0 GPA requirement is that students whose scholarships are revoked under this policy have the ability to appeal that decision. Thus, if they had been demonstrably putting forth their best effort despite any obstacles but not been able to reach a 2.0 GPA, their scholarship would have the chance to be re-granted. Given this, a minimum 2.0 requirement seems overwhelmingly reasonable considering a minimum semester GPA of 2.0 is also needed for a student to stay off of academic probation.

If a large number of students are frequently dropping below a 2.0 GPA and the university feels it is necessary to review this policy, then perhaps the real problems go deeper.

Maintaining a 2.0 should be completely manageable for the vast majority of students, especially those on merit scholarships. If it is not, then blurring the numbers for keeping merit scholarships is more of a Band-Aid than a solution. Are classes too difficult? Are core requirements unreasonable? Are the five hours of free tutoring stratifying struggling students’ grades by economic class? These are the questions that the university should be considering rather than gathering into subcommittees to dither over GPA requirements, however well-intentioned the committees’ proposed changes may be.