Who the students were


After the first week of classes, the number of students enrolled in the Truth in Society section settled at 39. Compared with the entire freshman class, slightly more of our students were "traditional" students -- i.e., in the 18 - 20 age range, coming directly from high school. This can be inferred from Table 1, which shows a slight under-representation of "transfer", "mature", "returning" and "other" students. The differences are not, in our view, highly significant.

Table 1
Basis of Admission, Truth in Society Students
& All 1st yr. Students, 1994-95, in percent and (numbers)

Basis of Admission TiS Students All 1st yr.
High School Standing87.2% (34)76.9% (496)
Transfer5.1 (2)7.9 (51)
Mature7.7 (3)8.2 (53)
Returning0.0 (0)3.4 (22)
Other0.0 (0)3.6 (23)
Total100% (39)100% (645)

Predictably, the three "mature" and two "transfer" students contributed significantly to the course. (And insofar as grades are an indication, these five did exceptionally well: three achieved the grade of A, one A- and the other B+.)

We hope that at least as many non-traditional students will enrol in the Aquinas programme in the future, but we recognize that there are good reasons why that proportion may be limited. Enrolling in the Aquinas programme means coming to university "full time"; because of work and family obligations, and/or because they have been out of the formal schooling environment for an extended period, many mature students prefer to ease their way into university with a year or two of part-time study. Returning and transfer students already have several university credits; if one of those credits happens to be in the introductory course of one of the disciplines making up the Aquinas section, they are ineligible.

Table 2 reveals that females were slightly over-represented in the Truth in Society section. Again these pattern is not in our view significant. Two additional males would have changed our distribution so that it matched exactly the overall pattern.

Table 2
Distribution by Gender, Truth in Society Students
& All Full Time 1st yr. Students, 1994-95

Gender TiS Students All 1st yr.
Female 74.4% (29) 69.6% (378)
Male 25.6 (10) 30.4 (165)
Total 100% (39) 100% (543)

The information presented as Table 3 is, however, significant. It seems that far more high academic achievers opted for our programme, and far fewer of those with marginal high school records. Among the entire freshman class admitted on the basis of high school performance, just over 30% had averages of 80 and above. 44% of Truth in Society students fit into this category. For the middle range - averages in the 70s -- the two figures are approximately equivalent. Instead of having 32.3% of our students with high school averages in the 60s, we had 17.6%.

Table 3
High School Averages, Truth in Society Students
& All First-year Students, 1994-95 (percent)*

High School Ave. TiS Students All 1st yr students TiS minus All
90 - 100% 14.7% 7.1% +7.6
80 - 89.9 29.4 24.0 +5.4
70 - 79.9 38.2 36.7 +1.5
60 - 69.9 17.6 32.3 -14.7
Total 99.9 (n=34) 100.1 (n=496)

* Information is provided only for those students who were admitted on the basis of High School performance. This excludes 149 students who were admitted as transfer or mature students, 5 of whom registered in Truth in Society.

The meaning of this pattern is something to ponder. Some relevant considerations: We began with the firm intention to carry out in our section the commitment of the Aquinas Program to create a learning environment suitable for students of all academic backgrounds and abilities. We wanted to avoid its becoming -- or being seen as -- either remedial, directed towards the academically weaker, or enriched, aimed at "high achievers." We are concerned that the experimental aura around the program may have attracted students more open to taking educational risks, who are often students with more academic potential than those who are more conservative or whose risk-taking has not been rewarded with success. The Truth in Society section was, we suspect, seen as perhaps the most unfamiliar sort of educational experience of the three sections of an already unfamiliar program. The fact that the Truth in Society section was the first to be filled must be taken into account. It may be that the rhetoric of the course description influenced a self-selected group of more adventurous students to elect this section.

Table 4
Grade Point Averages, Truth in Society Students
& All 1st yr. Students, 1994-95, in percent and (numbers)

GPA TiS - AQ* TiS - overall@ All 1st yr.
3.7 - 4.3 41.0% (16) 23.1% (9) 10.9% (70)
3.0 - 3.69 15.4 (6) 33.3 (13) 24.5 (158)
2.0 - 2.99 28.2 (11) 23.1 (9) 33.3 (215)
1.0 - 1.99 7.7 (3) 15.4 (6) 16.4 (106)
0 - 0.99 0.0 (0) 5.1 (2) 7.0 (45)
WD/other 7.7 (3) 0.0 (0) 7.9 (51)
Total 100% (39) 100% (39) 100% (645)

* Truth in Society students - distribution of grades in AQ Soci100, AQ RS100 & AQ Engl 1-200.
@ Truth in Society students - distribution of grades for all courses taken.

Table 4 indicates that the distribution of grades in Truth in Society was upwardly skewed in comparison with the entire first year class. To a considerable extent, this can be explained in terms of the higher proportion of our students who previously excelled academically.

Table 5
TiS Students admitted on basis of HS performance,
by HS average and TiS grade

HS 90 + HS 80 - 89.9 HS 70 - 79.9 HS 60 - 69.9
TiS - "A" 5 5 2 1
TiS - "B" 0 2 8 0
TiS - "C" 0 3 2 1
TiS - "D" 0 0 1 3
TiS - "WD" 0 1 0 1

The data in Table 5 suggest that level of high school performance was a fair predictor of success in Truth in Society. All five of the students with high school averages of 90 and above achieved grades in the A range. Of the six students with entering averages in the 60s, only one obtained a final grade at the B level or above.

We are frankly ambivalent about these results. One interpretation would take these results as providing some "face validity" to our method and scheme of evaluation. But we had hoped that the radically different organization of the course would allow students whose previous performance had been less than stellar to spread their wings. We do not want to be in the business, as someone recently said of a notably elite Canadian university, of "taking all these silk purses and turning them into silk purses."

Not all of the discrepancy observed in Table 4 can be explained in terms of prior academic performance. Comparing Truth in Society students' final grades in the programme with their overall GPA reveals that generally the grades in TiS were higher than in their other courses. Given that normally the TiS grade accounts for three-fifths of the overall grade, a very high correlation is to be expected; small differences between the two columns may be significant.

Table 6 provides information concerning the 39 Truth in Society students, with overall GPA for 1994-95 along the horizontal axis and GPA in TiS along the vertical.

Table 6
Truth in Society students, overall GPA & TiS GPA

T O 3.7 - 4.3 3.0 - 3.69 2.0 - 2.99 1.0 - 1.99 0 - 0.99 W D
3. 7 - 4. 3 9 6
3. 0 - 3. 6 9 7
2. 0 - 2. 9 9 9 2
1. 0 - 1. 9 9 3
0 - 0. 9 9
W D 1 2
Of the 37 who completed the course, 29 (or 78.4%) fell on the diagonal. There are no entries in cells below the diagonal. Eight students (21.6% of the 37) fell above the diagonal; i.e., their final grades in TiS were higher than their overall annual GPA. Most conspicuous are the six individuals whose overall GPAs were in the 3.0 to 3.69 range (B/B+) whose TiS grade was in the 3.7 to 4.3 range (A/A-).

That grades in TiS were generally higher is, we suspect, partially accounted for by the fundamentally different philosophy and practice of grading that we adopted (see the section on evaluation, below). It may also be that (consistent with studies of "time on task" measures in educational research) the simple mechanical fact of the requirement to attend and participate may account for the observation that students' marks in the Truth in Society section were higher than their marks in their other courses. Or, of course, it is also possible that the time commitment reported by Aquinas students was achieved at the expense of time spent in other courses. This is an issue which might be further explored by interviewing individual students.


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