Proposals Regarding Commencement

I enjoy our commencement ceremonies!  It’s one of the few occasions when everyone is joyous and happy!

The image of graduates walking across the stage receiving degrees is the single best reflection of all our collective efforts.  It is a vivid reminder of why we come to work each day.

Yet, I don’t always enjoy the days leading up to and days immediately following commencement.

As a faculty member, I have always found it difficult to administer two final exams – one for graduating seniors and one for other students.

I certainly do not enjoy the panic of students and often their families about missing final grades.

All too often, I have heard the complaints of disappointed students and their families – who have often invested significantly in travel and lodging to be here – when they have been informed just hours before commencement that they cannot participate.

Or, I have had to explain to transfer students with 4.0 GPAS that they are not eligible for the highest honor, Summa Cum Laude, because they have only earned 70 hours at FSU.

Two proposals pertaining to commencement currently under review by the Faculty Senate will help resolve some of the problems we regularly face at commencement.  They will also bring our written statements in line with practices that have emerged in the past several years.

The first proposal establishes guidelines for participation in commencement.  This proposal states that students who are enrolled in all outstanding degree requirements in a semester and have no class withdrawals that semester will be permitted to participate in commencement. This provision also permits students who are able to complete degree requirements in one or more summer terms to participate in spring commencement.

This proposal states in writing what we have been informally practicing since spring 2012 when we started encouraging students to complete outstanding degree requirements in the summer rather than waiting until the fall semester.  Participating in May commencement has proven to be a strong incentive for students to complete degrees in summer.  Our catalog statement about commencement has not been updated to reflect the current practice.  This proposal does so.

This proposal “rewards” the students who make it to final semester by permitting them to participate in commencement. It avoids the situation described above of last minute notification of non-participation. This means that some students who do not successfully complete all requirements in the final semester will be permitted to participate in the ceremony.

But, the real prize – having the degree conferred – will not occur until all degree requirements are met.

This proposal has a second beneficial consequence for faculty.  It eliminates the need for early administration of final exams for graduating seniors.  It permits us to clear students for graduation after commencement when all final grades have been submitted.

The second proposal does two things:  1) it revises the FSU hours required for graduating Summa Cum Laude (the highest distinction) and 2) it discontinues recognition of Valedictorian and Salutatorian.

To make sense of this proposal, it is essential to understand why virtually all higher education institutions require a minimum number of hours for graduating with honors.  Students who earn degrees at the same institution where they enrolled initially must earn grades of A and B over their entire academic career – at least 120 hours — to graduate with honors.

The situation is different for transfer students.  When students transfer from one institution to another, only their credits – but not their grades – transfer to the new institution.  This means that their final GPAs may be based on as few as 30 credits – the minimum permitted for earning a degree at an institution.  Earning a high GPA for one or two years is not as challenging as earning them for 120 credits.

Requiring a minimum number of hours for graduation with honors is an attempt to balance the disparate challenges of graduating with a high GPA.

Currently, at FSU we require at least 60 institutional hours for graduating Cum Laude and Magna Cum Laude and at least 90 FSU hours for graduating Summa Cum Laude. These hour requirements are coupled with required minimum GPAs of 3.2 (Cum), 3.5 (Magna), and 3.8 (Summa).

Transfer students have regularly called on us to reduce or eliminate the required FSU hours since it has prevented some of them to graduate with honors.  It is easy to understand the disappointment of students who complete degrees with very strong GPAs, but do not qualify for honors because they have earned fewer than 60 hours at FSU.

In light of these concerns, the Academic Affairs leadership reviewed all other UNC institutions’ policies regarding graduation with distinction.  (This information is summarized in the attached proposal.) The minimum hours required range from 30 to 70, but the most common are 45, 48, and 60.  Institutions that have a minimum of 45 credits tend to require higher GPAs.  We concluded that a minimum of 60 credits is reasonable especially with our current GPA ranges.

We found, however, that we are the only institution that requires 90 hours for graduating Summa Cum Laude.  The proposal to reduce the required hours from 90 to 60 for Summa Cum Laude brings our criteria more in line with other UNC institution.  Though it does not lower threshold for earning honors generally, it will permit more transfers students to graduate Summa Cum Laude.

A second component of the proposal discontinues the recognitions of Valedictorian and Salutatorian.  FSU is currently one of only two UNC institutions that name these honors at commencement and the other institution reports that efforts are underway to discontinue them.

Discontinuing these distinctions will eliminate the rush to submit final grades early enough to calculate the two highest GPAs.  The feedback from other UNC institutions suggests that this is a main reason why they do not recognize these distinctions.

Taken together, these proposals achieve the following important results:

  1. Clarifies who can participate in commencement.
  2. Eliminates the need for early final exams for graduating seniors and reduces the panic over missing or late final grades for graduating seniors.
  3. Permits our top performing transfer students to graduate with the highest honors.
  4. Eliminates the rush to clear students in the few days before commencement – a practice that can lead to serious errors.
  5. Establishes consistency between our written statements and practice.
  6. Brings our practices in greater consistency with other UNC institutions.

Please review these proposals for further details.  Please feel free to contact me by email if you have questions.