GPA in Later Grades is a Stronger Predictor of College Success

on March 27, 2017

A professor at the University of California Santa Cruz recommends that colleges base admissions decisions on the student’s grade point average (GPA) during the junior and senior years in high school, as opposed to the overall high school GPA.

 

George Bulman published his findings in the Journal of Public Economics. The paper, Weighting recent performance to improve college and labor market outcomes, reports that academic performance in later grades is a much better predictor of college success than academic performance in earlier grades. GPA during the junior and senior years also outperforms admissions test scores on the SAT and ACT without affecting diversity.

 

Bulman’s research, which is based on public colleges and universities in the Florida K-20 Education Data Warehouse, finds that academic performance in later grades is more predictive of college completion, on-time college graduation and earnings after graduation, as compared with academic performance in earlier grades.

 

According to the paper, increasing a student’s GPA by one point in the 11th grade increases the likelihood of college graduation by 16 percentage points, compared with the 5 percentage point increase in graduation rates from a one point improvement in the student’s 9th grade GPA.

 

This is in contrast with the common practice of ranking applicants by overall high school GPA. This practice gives equal weight to academic performance in each year in school.

 

The paper also found that increases in the student’s GPA from the 9th to the 11th grade correlated with improvements in college retention and completion rates.

 

The paper notes: “Predictive power of later grades is driven primarily by students who experience large negative performance trajectories during high school.” This means that if colleges continue to rely on the overall high school GPA, they should consider a downward GPA trend as a negative factor in college admissions decisions.

 

Academic performance during the senior year has a greater impact on outcomes than academic performance during the junior year. Likewise, academic performance during the junior year has a greater impact than the sophomore year, and the sophomore year has a greater impact than the freshman year.

 

Bulman also found that giving greater weight to more recent grades does not penalize low-income and minority students, unlike college admissions tests. According to the paper, differences in academic performance across grade levels have a very weak correlation with socioeconomic factors.

 

The findings of this paper provide colleges with a very simple tool for achieving significant increases in college graduation rates. They need to shift the focus from overall high school GPA to GPA during the junior and senior years.

 

Colleges can confirm the potential impact of Bulman’s research by analyzing college retention and graduation rates for their own students, comparing the predictive power of overall high school GPA with the predictive power of GPA during the junior and senior years in high school.

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