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Applicant sues over law school's alleged failure to account for grade inflation in admissions

A Challenge to the GPA
August 2, 2012

A 3.2 grade point average is not what it used to be.

That's what a Baylor University law school applicant, Michael Kamps, is arguing in a lawsuit against the university, which alleges that by neglecting to account for grade inflation when evaluating applicants’ undergraduate G.P.A.s, the admissions committee did not give Kamps the same chance at admission as it did younger applicants.

In the age discrimination suit, he claims that the 3.2 G.P.A. he earned in 1979 from Texas A&M University is equivalent to a 3.6 G.P.A. today because of grade inflation -- a phenomenon that has been plaguing colleges in the past few decades. Kamps said he doesn't think a legal challenge of this type has been brought in court before.

Kamps said he wants the court to look into the effects of grade inflation, and to rule that G.P.A. is not a valid evaluation standard when significant age differences are present among applicants.

"We have a biased set of standards that is being used to disqualify older applicants," he said. "That's not lawful."

Changing the Standards

Kamps first applied for the law school’s fall 2010 entering class. He also applied for the Joseph Milton Nance Presidential Scholarship, a full-tuition grant awarded each year to a maximum of three applicants who hold bachelor’s degrees from Texas A&M.

In his complaint, Kamps asks the court to order him admitted to the first fall entering class after the lawsuit concludes and to declare him a recipient of the scholarship, for which he said the university rendered him unqualified after it instituted a new G.P.A. requirement for it.

Applicants from Texas A&M must also meet the scholarship’s academic criteria, which used to be based on the “Baylor Index,” a score taken from a formula including G.P.A. and Law School Admission Test score. When Kamps applied in 2009, he was the only applicant who met the index score cutoff, according to the complaint.

But the law school’s scholarship committee decided to abandon the Baylor Index in favor of separate G.P.A. and LSAT standards -- 3.4 and 162, respectively -- which then disqualified him from the scholarship because of his G.P.A. (He scored a 169 on the LSAT, which he took in September 2009.)

Kamps wasn’t admitted for fall 2010, but he was offered admission for the summer 2010 and spring 2011 entering classes. He declined those offers and reactivated his application for fall 2011, and was waitlisted again -- but he was offered admission for spring 2012, which he also declined. He is on the waitlist for this fall's entering class.

“It’s my belief -- and it’s also my belief that it’s the school’s belief -- that the spring and summer entering classes are less competitive than the fall entering class,” Kamps said, adding that the school routinely offers applicants who are waitlisted in the fall admission to spring and summer classes, and it reserves the best scholarships for students entering in the fall.

Leaked Application Data

Baylor provided Kamps with more ammunition against its admissions process when, in early April, it accidentally sent each member of the fall 2012 admitted class a spreadsheet with each student’s G.P.A. and LSAT score.

By looking through the leaked credentials, which he found available on the Internet, Kamps found that his LSAT score was better than those of about 97 percent of admitted students, while his G.P.A. was superior only to about 20 percent. But his Baylor Index score -- a now-discarded evaluation method, according to the complaint -- was superior to about 68 percent of the fall 2012 admits.

Kamps argues in the complaint that by looking at class rankings or taking into account a grade inflation factor -- which a national study by Stuart Rojstaczer found to be about 0.14 points per decade -- his G.P.A. is equivalent to a 3.6 G.P.A. today.

Lori Fogleman, director of media communications at Baylor, wrote in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed that the university is aware of the complaint but does not comment on pending litigation.

“We are confident that our admissions decisions, including our law school, are rendered within the boundaries of the law and in a manner that is consistent with our own admissions standards as well as national admissions standards.”

‘Probably Stuck’

Rojstaczer, a former professor who conducts a national study of grade inflation trends, said that applicants to professional and graduate schools might have lower G.P.A.s if they are older, like Kamps: “Their G.P.A.s will be lower particularly if they applied two decades or so after they graduated from college.” But while acknowledging that grade inflation can present a problem for older applicants, he said that might not have been the only reason Kamps was not admitted.

“It’s hard to say with the data that’s available whether it’s a valid complaint or a frivolous one,” he said, adding that other factors -- such as recommendation letters or a personal statement -- could have influenced the school’s admissions decisions.

Rojstaczer said that Kamps's proposed remedy -- that Baylor and other graduate and professional schools de-emphasize G.P.A. in favor of other academic indicators -- is unlikely to take hold. Law schools emphasize students’ standardized test scores and G.P.A.s because the U.S. News and World Report rankings place a lot of weight on those factors.

“Law schools are very, very concerned about U.S. News rankings,” he said. “They tend not to make adjustments for schools that have low G.P.A.s today and for applicants that perhaps graduated many years ago, when G.P.A.s on a national average were lower.”

More recent graduates can also have low G.P.A.s if they majored in a science field, or if they attended an institution -- such as Reed College or Princeton University -- that traditionally hasn’t bowed to grade inflation as much as others. “It does negatively influence their prospects for admission,” he said.

But applicants with a low G.P.A. for any of these reasons are "probably stuck,” Rojstaczer said, adding that he thinks graduate and professional schools will continue to make these quantitative assessments despite any perceived unfairness.

 

 

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