First semester GPA predicts graduation likelihood


Daily Illini File Photo

Graduates pose for photos as University officials enter Memorial Stadium for commencement on Saturday, May 16, 2015.

By Lilly Mashayek

The researchers looked at 1,947 underrepresented, full-time students who were enrolled as freshmen in the academic year of 2005-2006.

“The sample was selected to focus on students who were low-income, attended under resourced high schools and/or were historically underrepresented based on race or geography,” said Susan Gershenfeld, who conducted the research during her time as a graduate student at the University, in an email.

Colleges typically use factors such as GPA, ACT, SAT and extra-curricular activities to judge whether they should accept students and whether those students would graduate.

“We wanted to know which [factor] would better help us predict if they would persist into their senior year and graduate,” said Denice Ward Hood, educational policy studies professor.

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Ultimately, students’ GPA wielded a positive correlation with their likelihood to graduate.

“Students with a first semester 2.33 or less were about 1/2 as likely to graduate as those in the highest range (3.68-4.0),” Gershenfeld said.

According to University policy, a cumulative GPA lower than 2.0 is the cutline between a student being in good standing versus being on placed on probation.“Very often it’s that 2.0 that triggers a number of things; an advisor might contact you, you might be placed on probation, you may be placed on probation within your major,” Hood said. “So as long as a student stays above that 2.0, nothing really triggers.”

While Hood understands it is difficult to for advisors with large amounts of students of whom they are in charge, she does think that those students in the 2.0 to 2.5 range might also garner a second look.“Generally it’s like, well, they’re not on probation and who has time to delve into that big group,” she said. “But those students, I wonder, are we neglecting them a little bit.”

Students who changed majors anytime after their first-semester were also included in the data set, but no separate tests were run to see how that affected their likelihood of graduating.

“The most significant predictor of graduation among all the coefficients included in the regression was first-semester GPA,” Gershenfeld said.

Hood said that although students may have the same GPA, a wide variety of reasons besides intelligence could have played a role. Sometimes a student may have had a family emergency or an illness, or they may have skipped going to class and partied a little too hard.“Those all may result in the same GPA, but those are very different reasons,” she said.

Gershenfeld said that it’s important for students who earned a low first-semester GPA to be honest with themselves and try to see why they didn’t earn a higher GPA.

“With this understanding, they can seek the appropriate assistance,” she said. “The campus has a variety of resources to help students succeed, and if a student is uncertain as to where to go, start with their advisor.”

Jared Webster, a junior in FAA, said that the University provides a lot of services for struggling students, such as tutoring services.

“The goal is ultimately we want them to not just finish their first year, we want them to come back every year and graduate,” Hood said.

Students who are looking for help with raising their GPAs can talk to the Counseling Center, and their college or program advisors.