December 13, 2011

Political Theory

Recently, I filled out an application to become a summer intern for J.P. Morgan. When I opened up the academic section of the application, there was only one question on the entire page: “Is your current GPA higher than a 3.5?” Regardless of my answer, I was still disappointed with this question. This is so because the Ross School of Business, the very school that I have entrusted with my education, has implemented a “sorting mechanism” through which it can hinder its student’s ability to apply to prestigious firms like J.P. Morgan.

This can be seen through Ross’s use of a bell curve distribution in all of its core classes. The distribution is structured in such a way that no matter how each individual person scores on their exams, the top 40% of all students will receive an A- or above (3.7 or higher), the median 20% of students will receive a B+  (3.4), and the bottom 40% of students will receive a B or lower (3.0 or lower). Through this scale, Ross is able to justify giving 60% of its students a grade below J.P. Morgan’s requirement, in each of its core classes.

After reading about theory 1 and theory 2 in Louis Menand’s article, Live and Learn, I began to understand the diverging interest between the “meritocratic” Ross School and the education oriented College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, from which I entered into Ross.

Theory 1 suggests that college is a “four-year intelligence test”. At the end of which, each student receives a single score in the form of a “G.P.A. that professional schools and employers can trust as a measure of intellectual capacity” (Menand p.1). Ross uses this GPA as a sorting mechanism, through which, it can effectively separate the more intelligent students from the rest of the student body. That is, if those with a higher GPA really are more intelligent.

Menand’s theory 2 states, “education is about personal and intellectual growth, not about winning some race to the top” (Menand p.2). The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts implements this growth strategy through its emphasis on assigning challenging reading and writing requirements to its students.

Take our Political Science 101 course; throughout the semester we have been assigned readings from challenging authors like Socrates and Thomas Hobbes. Moreover, we are given the option to choose between writing a blog, writing two academic essays, or completing a group project. Regardless of which two we pick to complete, all three require students to use critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving, and writing skills. On top of this, there is no distribution within the class. Thus, students need not worry about being sorted out. This allows them to spend more time to focusing on learning the material, rather than being at the high end of the curve.

In his article, Menand reveals that he is in fact a proponent of theory 2. This leads me to believe that he would not support the sorting system that Ross has implemented. He would most likely cite results from the Collegiate Learning Assessment that reveal how “students majoring in liberal-arts fields… do better on the C.L.A., and show greater improvement, than students majoring in non-liberal-arts fields” (Menand p. 3). These results show how Ross’s emphasis on GPA might actually cause its students to learn less than their LS&A counterparts.

Despite this notion, Menand would use his third theory to explain why students would attend Ross in spite of this disadvantage.

In theory 3, Menand explains the reasons why students would pursue a non-liberal-arts path, “advanced economies demand specialized knowledge and skills…  A college degree in a non-liberal field signifies competence in a specific line of work” (Menand p.4). Despite the fact that Ross has implemented a sorting mechanism for its students, there’s no denying the fact that it also provides them with a highly structured curriculum that will prepare them to go into the world of business. Moreover, since its students already know which field they want to pursue a career in, there is little reason for them to develop all the skills that an LS&A student would look to improve upon.

For example,  if a student wishes to pursue a career in Finance, then there really is no need for him to enroll in extraneous liberal arts classes like “World Literature” (no offense to world literature).

In sum, the University of Michigan offers all of its students the opportunity to apply to whichever school is conductive to their specific learning habits. Whether a student decides to pursue a career at firm like J.P. Morgan or to enter into a graduate program, both the Ross School of Business and the College of Literature, Science, & the Arts, have implemented effective systems that enable their students to be prepared for the next step in their lives.

Short Clip: Below is a video that makes a pun on the bell curve system by trying to allow an under qualified person into a specific program to raise everyone else’s grades. Enjoy!



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12 Comments on “THE ROSS ISSUE”

  1. #jasonschwartz Says:

    I just found this interesting article on how businesses in america are starting to adapt to this performance based bell curve distribution. It seems like america’s corporations are now starting to follow in Ross’s footsteps rather than LS&A’s

  2. bmschmid Says:

    I am of the opinion that using solely GPA to calculate if a student graduating a university is going to be a better candidate than someone else is ridiculous. I know when applying to big universities for undergraduate out of high school, admissions people will use SAT/ACT as a way to narrow their focus of kids their going to really evaluate. If a large university receives tens of thousands of applications, there must be a good amount of the kids who are simply aren’t at the standards of that particular university with such a poor score. This process is totally unfair, but I don’t think universities want to spend more on admissions people especially if its to read students applications who have low SAT scores. I am very against this forced sorting process because there might be a diamond in the ruff who has less than a 3.5 but are much more competent. Grades doesn’t equal brains. I couldn’t believe that at such an prestigious financial institution like J.P. Morgan would only have the question about their GPA being at 3.5 or higher. I don’t feel bad for the kids with 2. something grades, but imagine if you had a 3.45. Do you really think that that person is less component in their ability to work for J.P. Morgan than someone with a 3.50. That difference could be one bad final exam or something of that nature.

    Ross should really re-think their GPA and bell curve.

    • Michael Zanger Says:

      I agree with this. When I applied to the University of Michigan, I had a low score on my ACT, relative to their “average applicant”. The scores do not measure an individual’s ability in college (As they claim to do), and I know this first hand.

      If you’re applying to J.P. Morgan, well, of course you’re going to have to compete with thousands of applicants and the company is lazy by requiring a GPA minimum to cut costs on their end. But then again, are you really surprised?

  3. jacobdockser Says:

    I agree that the bell curve system of grading is truly unfair. it is entirely possible for a student to get a nominal 85/100 on a test and yet still be given a C on a test because 30% or more got 90 and above? It doesn’t seem fair to me and it is not only unfair to the system but does not act as a true judge of how students are doing in class, thus making the GPA measurement inaccurate.

  4. mimirofl Says:

    This is a joke! I don’t think trusting someone’s GPA is enough to be able to determine if they should be employed or not. It’s like being shallow and dating someone for their looks, but not getting to know them on a more personal level. As for Ross, this is a very interesting grading scale that they have, and I think it could be efficient in determining the competitive students who are willing to work for that A from the ones with a C. However, this is not fair to the other 60 percent of students because what if a lot of them were able to get A’s as well? But they wouldn’t be awarded with it because their A is lower than the others.

    Unfortunately rules are rules, and we can’t afford to complain about it. We just need to suck it up and battle for that top notch grade because that is what our employers use to determine our status for employment.

  5. akmcoy Says:

    As a student in Ross as well, I can’t tell you how much this topic has come up. I don’t necessarily agree with it either, but there’s other angles to look at. The bell curve doesn’t necessarily just lower students grades, it may also raise them. For instance, a student could score in the 70s on an exam, but because more people in the class did worse than that, they can get a B or a B+. Many students outside of Ross criticize Ross for actually boosting students’ GPAs. Accounting 271 was bumped froma B- curve to a B+ curve this year, only further raising students’ average GPA in the class. On top of that, if Ross students receive an A+ in a class (even if it is an LSA class) it is reported as a 4.4/4.0 on Ross’ GPA scale which can raise students’ GPAs a lot.

    Like I said though, I don’t necessarily agree with the system. I think it makes students too competitive and focus more on beating the curve and other classmates rather than mastering the material. I did however want to point out that its not always a bad thing for students, since it can actually help their GPA.

  6. zrobbins24 Says:

    Personally, I do not like classes that curve just to have a certain amount of people get within a certain grade range, and especially curves that would actually lower a student’s grade. However, I do like the kinds of curve that will not lower a student’s grade, such as in Calculus 1. The curve in that class will not lower a student’s grade because usually it is below the B- “standard” that the course coordinators like to use for the middle of the curve. Even if the grade is about a normal B-, with the curve, it will increase.

    Unfortunate as many believe it to be, the GPA is the only real way we can compare students on the surface. Just looking at a resume, there may be extracurricular activities, jobs or internships, and community service, but there will always be a GPA. Many argue, though, that a student’s work ethic and personality should be considered when a job is being offered, and that is why many firms require a candidate to go through an in depth interview process. However, many times a student cannot get an interview without a high GPA because the GPA on the resume is usually what determines whether or not someone gets a callback to have an interview. Thus, I would probably be in between both of Menand’s theories because I feel that the GPA is a good start in comparing candidates, but the comparison needs to go deeper; it needs to include personality and work ethic.

  7. nnvirani Says:

    I personally think that the Bell Curve can be very fair at times. You can get a 90% on an exam, at times, and end up with a B because the vast majority got 95%. At other times, a 40% can be an A. Obviously this system is put into place to make the grades for exams that are either too hard or too easy more fitting because lets face it, our GPA is one of the main things we are looking out for. At a school like Michigan where most of our classes are on a curve because the questions are so hard to begin with, we need the curve. At this times, this can be very counterproductive when finding a job. A difference of 10 points which maybe only 3 questions can potentially be 2 letter grades or 2.0 (on a 4.0 scale) lower. This is the difference between getting hired by JP Morgan or having to work at a restaurant this summer.
    On another note, I believe that the LSA curriculum can be very beneficial to our future. I am an Economics major and I have learned things in my other classes that I probably would have never thought about. Rather than going for a purely money driven approach to life, other things now phase me as more important. However, most of us only go to school to get a good job and make a lot of money. When taking this approach, Ross definitely prevails. The hiring rate out of Ross is almost 100% and the name carries incredible weight anywhere you go. The numbers are not that high for LSA.

  8. goldman13 Says:

    As I am a pre-admit into the Ross School of Business I think that I can offer a unique outlook on this situation. I have not started to enter into the Ross curriculum yet, however, as a pre-admit, I have had access to some of the resources that Ross offers.

    Based on how I have been treated thus far I Ross, I am going to disagree with your argument that Ross is only trying to sort out students. As I am a pre-admit, the Ross school has given me access to a ton of resources. The most significant of which is my peer advisor. In the begining of the term I was assigned to a peer advisor to help me make a smooth transition into college and then into Ross. My advisor has been incredibly helpful in giving me advice to further my academic prowess. Furthermore, I am able to schedule appointments with any advisor at any time, and I am allowed to use the ross gym.

    This leads me to feel that Ross is a very nurturing rather than hostile school.

  9. lnk72792 Says:

    I’m in ross and I completely agree with your analysis of the school as a “sorting mechanism”. Unfortunately for me, I was unaware of this system before I came to school here. As a result, I find myself in a rough spot as I feel like I have to compete rather than colaborate with my classmates.

    This is upsetting to me because one of the main reasons why I decided to join Ross was because I enjoy working in a colaborative environment. Now, I find it hard to even form a study group with my friends.

    Despite this fact, I am most likely going to remain within Ross because, like you said, what we arer learning in school is very applicable to the world of business. More specifically, I find the curiculum of acocunting to be very applicable to the real world as I spent time last summer interning in an accounting department.

  10. benjishanus Says:

    I also agree that the implementation of the bell curve is not entirely fair. I think it definitely has the potential to undermine the honest effort of a student and discourages complete fairness when it comes to grading. Students should simply be encouraged to do the best that they can rather than worrying about the work that people are doing around them. I’m sure this ultimately makes for an extremely tense, stressful environment, which college tends to offer enough of already.

    However, I can also see the justification for such a system and how it may ultimately help students as well. Just as the system has the ability to knock students down a grade level based on their competition, if the majority of students were to perform poorly on an exam, this system would then actually raise the grade of many students. As for the justification, although it may not be completely fair, this is definitely representative of the what the “real word” is all about: tough, rigid, stressful, competitive, pressure-cooker, and often unfair. As annoying as that may be to swallow, it may be very valuable for students to learn to accept these principles and and realities sooner rather than later.

    That being said, I can absolutely sympathize for students whom have fallen victim to the bell curve system, however, I can also see justification for the implementation of this system as well.

  11. #jasonschwartz Says:

    I found a great RSA video that clearly illustrates some of the issues with standardized testing:

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