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After Decline, Magna Honors Rose in 2004

A third of seniors were awarded magna degrees this year

By Margaret W. Ho, Crimson Staff Writer

The total number of magna cum laude honors awarded by Harvard College rose this year, marking a break from the declining statistics of the past several years.

Of 1,585 College graduates, 33.4 percent earned magna honors this month. But previous years have reflected a downward trend. While 36.2 percent of the Class of 2001 boasted the second-highest honors recommendation, the figure dropped to 34.4 percent the following year. The Class of 2003 had 30.5 percent of its graduates come away with magna honors.

But administrators contend that it is difficult to pinpoint any one component as responsible for the fluctuations in the number of honors granted.

“Since recommendations by concentrations for all levels of honors depend on so many different factors, it’s hard to say that any one factor is crucial...rather, the variations are just what might be expected from time to time, under the system that we had in place through this year,” Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education John T. O’Keefe wrote in an e-mail.

The number of seniors receiving cum laude honors, on the other hand, declined.

While 56.2 percent of the Class of 2003 graduated with cum laude honors, the number tumbled to 52.5 percent this year.

Regardless, the honors system was still generous, with only 9.4 percent of the class graduating without honors.

But next year’s graduates will not be so lucky.

While Rachael A. Wagner ’04, who graduated summa, said that she didn’t think graduating this year versus next year would have affected her all that much—because summa cum laude honors will remain capped at five percent as they were this year—she admitted that the new restrictions have their disadvantages.

“I do think it’s a shame that the new honors caps may cause some students who write theses to graduate without honors,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Writing a senior thesis is a huge undertaking, and I think that thesis writers deserve recognition of some sort, despite the University’s efforts to reduce grade inflation.”

A new cap on honors, approved by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in May 2002, restricts magna and summa awards to 20 percent of the graduating class and permits no more than 50 percent of the class to graduate summa, magna or cum laude. The policy will go into effect next year.

—Staff writer Margaret W. Ho can be reached at mwho@fas.harvard.edu.

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