Measuring success in Government courses

I’ve been wondering: do our majors excel in our courses relative to other classes they take at Bowdoin?

I used data from a recent graduating class and plotted the students’ GPA in their Government courses against their overall Bowdoin GPA.  I have suppressed the numeric labeling to make it clear that I’m not interested in showing “average” actual GPA on either axis, as I know that information is controversial to share.

One weakness in the data is that “overall GPA” includes performance in Government courses, so the x-axis does not allow for a pure comparison.

What might we expect?  The black line is the 45-degree line.  A lot of points above that line means that performance in their major courses exceeds their overall GPA.  This would mean either that Gov courses are easier OR that students truly excel in their major relative to other courses.  Lots of points below the line would mean that students under-perform in their Government courses, perhaps because our courses are harder, a possible (natural) outcome of upper-level courses that focus on challenging and focused questions specific to the discipline.

It turns out that we see lots of points above and below the line; and that overall GPA explains 83 percent of the variation across students’ Government-specific GPA.  No single narrative prevails beyond the somewhat pleasing fact that students tend to be consistent across their courses, whether they be for major or minor credit or in classes they take just for fun.


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