Study: The most innovative students may earn the lowest grades

Problem solving, faculty mentors, peer networking linked to more student innovation

College GPA and innovation are inversely correlated, according to two researchers from New York University (NYU).

Matthew Mayhew, an NYU associate professor of higher education, and Benjamin Selznick, a Ph.D. student at the university, have surveyed over 10,000 full-time undergraduate and graduates students in the United States, Qatar, Germany, and Canada as part of an ongoing research project. The cohort includes various majors, races, gender identifications, social classes, political backgrounds, and exposure to entrepreneurs.

Survey questions ask students about their "innovation intentions and capacities," college experiences, and backgrounds.

An analysis of the collected data found that the most innovative students were those who networked with their peers, had a strong relationship with a faculty member, and had assignments that encouraged them to develop arguments and problem-solving skills.

However, as GPAs went up, innovation went down, according to Mayhew and Selznick.

Their explanation: innovative students prioritize things other than grades in college.

Expert insight: Dedicating staff time to innovation

Mayhew and Selznick say their findings suggest that innovative people are intrinsically motivated. Innovators don't complete work for a grade; they do it for themselves. The researchers also say innovative students prioritize different college experiences, such as brainstorming, new challenges, and developing strategies. 

However, one "troubling" finding is that women showed fewer innovative characteristics than the men in the study, the authors say.

The results "speak to the need for higher education to intervene and actively introduce the broadest range of individuals to educational experiences and environments that spur the generation and implementation of new ideas. Fresh and creative ideas, after all, are not restricted to any one gender, race, or family background," write Mayhew and Selznick (Mayhew/Selznick, The Conversation, 2/19).

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