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The Honors Program at Western Oregon University is like most other programs when it comes to admission: we have established minimum requirements for SAT/ACT scores and high school GPAs. Over the last couple of years that I have been directing the program, I have consistently and incrementally raised these requirements. At the same time, I have been increasingly intrigued by one question: do these minimum requirements really matter? If high school GPAs and SAT scores are used as measures of students when they enter the university and the Honors Program, then how do these students measure up to comparable metrics when they graduate?
At the outset, I concede that this is a huge research question and a highly controversial one too. An analysis would require discussion of the problems with the SAT such as those described by Nicholas Lemann; it would address the classist nature of American society and higher education as elucidated by, for instance, Walter B. Michaels; and it would involve a host of issues such as grade inflation in high schools. The potential for heated arguments is, in academia, no excuse for staying away from research topics; in fact, it is all the more reason to ask such questions. Thus, despite the many complexities of the topic that lie beyond the scope of this essay, I wish to examine the SAT- and GPA-related data for the five years that I have been at my current institution, not all of them as Director of the Honors Program. My hope is that this five-year analysis will serve as a pilot study from which I can then frame a more rigorous research agenda.
All along, I had assumed that high SAT scores and high school GPAs would four years later result in high academic success. However, a preliminary investigation of this hypothesis, which is described in this pilot study of data from five cohorts of honors students at a regional public university, reveals that there is no such consistent pattern. This relatively counter-intuitive finding calls for not only additional and detailed data analysis but also rethinking of the admission requirements for honors.