Taking Notes: Eye on Education – IQ Less Important Than “EQ”

Taking Notes: Eye on Education – IQ Less Important Than “EQ”

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org


Although university admission is dependent on a student’s high school marks, new research shows that high school grade point average (GPA) is a poor predictor of success in university. Researchers at Trent University, Ontario, have discovered that a student’s emotional maturity, not grade point average, appears to be the factor that determines whether a student makes it through the first year of university.

James Parker, the Canada Research Chair in Emotion and Health at Trent University, tracked the success of almost 1500 first year students at four U.S. universities and did a follow-up study with 372 Trent U students. Although all students entered university with similar high school GPA, the successful ones scored higher on emotional intelligence (EQ). This “EQ” included interpersonal skills, ability to interact with other people, ability to cope with environmental demands and to work under pressure.

The researchers commented on the irony – high school GPA is the main university admissions variable, and most universities are raising the bar, excluding any high school graduates that do not achieve marks within the upper score – yet a high GPA does not mean success. A further irony is that programs such as medicine have an even higher minimum GPA admissions standard – yet some might argue that these are professions that would benefit from students who demonstrate a higher degree of emotional intelligence and people skills.

Of concern, too, are the increasingly dismal retention rates, with an average of one out of every ten students dropping out after the first year. This increases in subsequent years, with some universities experiencing graduation rates of only 50% in certain programs. In Ontario, more than one quarter fail to graduate within seven years.

There are, of course, many factors that affect retention, including financial. But if success in high school is not one of them, it is time for universities to sit up and take notice. As demands for post-secondary education increase, universities are coping with limited resources by raising admission standards. This has resulted in many well-qualified students being excluded from a university education simply on the basis of a less than stellar high school performance. If high school academics are not the best indicator of success at university, universities need to make some adjustments to their admission process. There are many factors involved in achieving success at university, including emotional maturity. Athabasca University’s Open Admission policy serves as an excellent model of a university that accepts students on the basis of other criteria, allowing students who may not have done particularly well in high school to have a chance to prove themselves in university. AU students provide ample proof that such an admission policy works.

Schmidt, Sarah, CanWest News Service, August 16, 2004. EQ, not IQ, holds key to university success: High school grades a weak predictor of who does well at next level.

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