As the economy plummets, more students have become dependent on financial aid and grants. Anxiety to maintain their GPAs is one of the main causes for students to pressure professors into reconsidering grades.
“I’ve noticed an increased set of circumstances where students are pleading with me to reconsider a grade or [asking] for something else they can do to augment the grade so they can stay in school,” Visiting Professor Seth Tichenor said. “Students have always asked me to reconsider grades for academic standards, but now it seems to be for financial reasons just as much as academic.”
If students fall below a 2.0 GPA, they are put on probation and have one semester to improve their performance. If they are unable to do so, they are suspended from the college, Director of Financial Aid Crisanne Werner said.
Students honored with merit grants must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher to have their grants renewed once they become juniors.
“Students who have these scholarships don’t typically lose them,” she said.
According to Jennifer Ballard, director of institutional research, 90-95 percent of first-year students from the class that entered Linfield in 2004 finished fall semester with a 2.0 or higher GPA. All subsequent groups of first-semester students finished with similar percentages. The percentage provides an idea about the number of students who did not maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher.
For those that don’t, the strain to get themselves off probation is a high priority.
“[As a professor], you are no longer capable of thinking solely in academic terms,” Tichenor said. “If you know a student is in a potentially life-changing financial crisis, simply because of a bad semester, it causes you to think twice about the grade you’re giving.”
Registrar Eileen Bourassa has been in situations when professors have come to her because they have been put in similar circumstances. She said she tells them about tough love.
“We’ve all heard of tough love, and that’s what we have to deal with,” she said. “This is the real world: You get what you earn.”
She emphasized the various other ways students can receive assistance with their studies, such as the programs Academic Advising offers.
With students dwelling in the anxiety of maintaining their financial aid, the amount of money the college has to offer becomes an issue.
The endowment has declined, according to Bruce Wyatt, vice president of college relations.
Linfield is authorized to spend 4.5 percent of the endowment, he said. Linfield manages the endowment by following a 12-quarter system. The 4.5 percent is not based on each quarterly figure, but on the average from 12 quarters, or three years. This provides stability and planning opportunities should the endowment decrease.
On June 20, 2008, the endowment was $71 million. As of Dec. 31, it was at $54 million, Wyatt said.
“Although our endowment has dropped quite a bit, the college will have more to spend next year because of the 12-quarter system,” he said.
This management style allows the Office of Financial Aid, which is presently informing prospective students about their grant packages, to award more money than it has in previous years.
“This college has been around for 150 years,” Wyatt said. “Are we concerned about finances today? Yes, of course. But are we in trouble? No, we will come out of this.”
The Oregon Opportunity Grant recently decreased, eliminating $80 from each of the 400 Linfield students utilizing the fund, Wyatt said. Linfield President Thomas Hellie sent a message out to each student stating they would not be responsible the difference. So far, $25,000 has been generated by Linfield faculty, staff and alumni to pay the amount.
“Our first commitment is affordability and accessibility,” he said.
With finances in turmoil for many families of Linfield student, scholarships and grants are even more essential. Maintaining the grades to sustain awards is a key factor in college rigor.
“I think recessions like we’re in right now are times when people get nervous about all sorts of things,” Professor of Philosophy Marvin Henberg said. “Grades are one of them. But just because the economy drops off you can’t assume it’s not worth it to get a college education.”
Henberg emphasized the importance of maintaining standards when grading.
“To me a grade is like first place in a race,” he said. “You cheapen the race if you give first place to everyone.”
Tichenor brought up the the necessity of a college degree and the costliness of obtaining one.
“It honestly bothers me that 21- and 22-year-old [students] have to go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt just to get basic certification to participate in professional middle-class life,” he said.