University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Senate

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Date: April 15, 2002
To: Urbana Senators
From: Senate Educational Policy Committee
Re: EP.02.10, Report on Grade Point Average Calculation


The Senate Educational Policy Committee wishes to inform the Urbana Senate of its deliberations regarding the calculation of undergraduate and graduate grade point averages. The Committee's deliberations were prompted by the impending transition from UI Direct to SCT Banner Student, the latter being one element of an integrated suite of enterprise software applications purchased to manage student administration, financial aid, human resources, and finance across the three-campus University of Illinois system.

In short, the Committee:

- reaffirms the policy expressed in EP.97.19, which stipulates that GPAs on the Urbana campus should be calculated using "true thirds"-that is, numerical grade weights of 1/3 (or 1/6 in the College of Law);

- advises that the university administration should strongly encourage SCT to add capacity for "true-thirds" GPA calculations to the next baseline version of Banner;

- advises that, for campus-level official GPAs, EP.97.19 should be implemented within the capabilities of UI Direct and its successor, SCT Banner;

- advises that the UI Direct or SCT Banner GPA be considered the official campus GPA, to be used for all official campus matters, while for matters internal to colleges and departments, unofficial GPA calculations may be made as college and departmental officials deem appropriate;

- acknowledges that the method of GPA calculation set forth in the "Code of Policies and Regulations Applying to All Students" at Rule 71 is at variance with EP.97.19 but consistent with the capabilities of UI Direct and the current version of SCT Banner (with GPAs calculated using 0.33 and 0.67 and truncated at two digits to the right of the decimal point).

The foregoing represents a consensus reached by the Committee's membership. All members-advocates of diverse positions, interests, and constituencies-gave ground to arrive at this compromise statement.

The Committee notes with gratitude the advice it received from Professor David Ruzic, chair of the UI Integrate Faculty Advisory Committee. His observations on the policy ramifications of technical choices proved invaluable throughout the months this matter was on the Committee's agenda.


1. The Committee understands that there is currently no viable technical solution that can bring GPA calculation policy and practice into alignment. All sufficiently robust student administration software on the market calculates GPAs using inputs such as 0.33 and 0.67 and truncate the results at two digits to the right of the decimal point. The most obvious technical solution available is not viable because it is prohibitively expensive. It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to have SCT integrate a "true-thirds" GPA calculation option into the version of Banner Student that will go live at UIUC before August 2005. An outlay would be recurrent with each new version of Banner the university receives and could make it difficult, if not impossible, to adopt later versions of Banner not customized to perform "true-thirds" GPA calculations. Another potential technical solution entails development of a "bolt-on" program-written and maintained by the university-that would serve as an adjunct or shadow to SCT Banner. The Committee is persuaded that such "bolt-on" programs are problematic in terms of cost and reliability.

2. The Committee urges the university administration to work through appropriate channels-including, for example, SCT's Advisory Board, Quality Advisory Council, and User Conferences-to have "true-thirds" GPA calculation capacity added to the next baseline version of Banner at no cost to the university.

3. The Committee is sensitive to the fact that the academic associate deans of the undergraduate colleges wish to observe a consistent standard in the calculation of GPAs in matters of campus-wide import: campus awards, Latin honors, probation and drops, graduation checks, and so on. Within current and near-term technical constraints on the implementation of EP.97.19, GPAs generated by UI Direct or SCT Banner provide a desirable level of consistency. What they may not provide, however, is an adequate degree of discrimination in all instances. The example of Bronze Tablet is instructive. Using GPAs truncated two places to the right of the decimal point may yield a pool of top students slightly larger than the three percent of graduating seniors eligible for university honors. If this happens, additional honors should be awarded to students tied at the threshold of three percent rather than resorting to a secondary (and unofficial) method of GPA calculation to resolve ties.

4. The Committee is sensitive to the need of colleges, departments, and other units to perform unofficial GPA calculations that meet local needs (e.g., departmental scholarships, but not probation, drops, graduation checks, and the like). On this subject the Committee wishes to share the following mathematical advice it entertained during its deliberations. First, in any GPA calculation, the number of significant digits to the right of the decimal point cannot exceed the number of digits to the right of the decimal point in the individual values used to make the calculation. (The average of A- [3.67], B+ [3.33], and B- [2.67] can be represented as 3.223, but the last digit is not significant and should not be used for the purpose of distinguishing performance.) Second, even using "true-thirds" calculation, and even as students accrue enough grades to graduate, digits more than two places to the right of the decimal point are mathematically insignificant. (With, say, 40 grades on record at graduation, the uncertainty of an undergraduate GPA is +/- 0.026, thus rendering the third digit to the right of the decimal point insignificant for the purpose of distinguishing performance.)