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!