Freshman average grades up to 2.57

Ryan Brown, Managing Editor

Freshmen are getting better at Pitt-Johnstown, at least according to the numbers.

Freshmen concluding the fall 2011 semester had an average GPA around 2.57 — nearly two-tenths of a point higher than fall 2010.

Assistant Academic Affairs Vice President Paul Douglas Newman sent an e-mail to all Pitt-Johnstown’s students last Thursday, congratulating them and urging them to keep up the good work.

Newman attributed the grade increase partly to Academic Success Center employees, who have more actively met with failing students since Newman’s position was filled less than two years ago.
“They work tirelessly with first-year and second-year students,” he said.

A cluster of factors is likely responsible for the increase, including changing student attitudes.

Over the past year, Newman said, more freshmen have taken it upon themselves to seek official help when their grades slip.

Students who had been uninformed about GPA management – including some who didn’t realize they were allowed to retake failed classes – began actively seeking help at the success center.

Meanwhile, students without declared majors, who represent roughly 25 percent of each freshman class and generally have lower grades than their peers, have been a particular focal point for the evolving Academic Success program, Newman said.

“We’re treating ‘undeclared’ as a major now,” Newman said. In the past, undeclared students were left until last to plan their college careers during orientation, a program under development is set to assign them specialized advisers and offer major-development surveys.

Newman described “epiphany stories,” a program segment in which successful people would speak to undeclared students about the realizations that led them on their career paths, and small-group workshops based on finding a major.

In keeping with the new path-finding theme, Academic Success officers have reworked the familiar University Scholarship classes required for all freshmen.

The class, formerly based largely on study skills and organization, now revolves around “The Element,” a book by British author Ken Robinson that stresses the importance of inspirational interest in a field of study.

“We attached that search for identity to study skills,” Newman said.

Kelsey Shanabrook, among the first freshman class to take the reworked University Scholarship course, said the attached speaking events were interesting – but doubted that it had an effect on her grades.

“I liked it but, at the same time, reading other people’s stories didn’t really help me,” she said, referring to the celebrity stories – including Paul McCartney, Meg Ryan and “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening – featured in “The Element.”

Something has helped improve freshmen’s grades, though, and Newman quickly dismissed the possibility of a more mundane cause: gradually easier grading from professors and instructors, a well-documented nationwide trend.

“I don’t worry whatsoever about grade inflation,” he said.

“It would be extraordinary if 225 instructors began, all at once, in one year, inflating their grades.”