Friday Link Love: Grade Inflation in Colleges

Just one today—and not food related! Linked from Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

From C's to A's
Created by: Masters Degree


I entered college more than 20 years ago but the trend was supposedly underway. There were still more B’s given than A’s at that point.

I am naturally skeptical of “ain’t it awful” and “get off my lawn” arguments… though I admit some of these stats are worth some analysis. Others seem pretty weak (college presidents’ perceptions of preparedness may be accurate, but at the very least, they need to be taken with a grain of salt).



5 thoughts on “Friday Link Love: Grade Inflation in Colleges

  1. susan says:

    Oh, this is just so true (the grade inflation piece that is). Some of the rest–well, I love how the booze bottles are shown as graphics while trying to prove that students aren’t learning as much–but there is nothing supporting the graphic. We’re supposed to assume it’s booze causing the problem, when, in fact, students in the 60s were at least as likely to consume and their grading was objectively tougher and they apparently spent more hours on college work. I’m a bit tired of the “all the college kids are drunken bums” trope.

    The assertion that college students are less well prepared? I suspect you could do that survey every 10 years backward and forward and presidents would say the same.

    But grade inflation? Rampant. (Remember I worked in graduate school admissions for a year–I’ve seen a LOT of transcripts). Grades have become utterly meaningless as evaluators. Students “punish” faculty who grade less leniently with bad evaluations and blacklisting their classes. Students run straight to the dean with complaints about unfair grades, when unfair is an A-. It’s such a widespread problem that resolution seems impossible. It would take wide systemic changes to bring grading back to moderation. Even a single university couldn’t change it because their students would then look bad against other students in competition for jobs, graduate school admissions and fellowships. As a counterweight though, I would like to lift up Dartmouth, which has, I think, the very best grading system ever. Each student earns a particular grade in the class. Next to that student’s grade (on the transcript) is the median grade in that class, and next to that the number of students in the class. So a student with a B-, in a class where the median was C- and where there 250 students is recognized as having better than average abilities. A student who gets an A in a class with a median grade of A and 30 students? meaningless. A student who gets an A in a class with a median grade of A and 5 students–well that’s a seminar, and it’s quite likely that all five students could earn an A. They also base Latin honors on this–it’s not the number of As you get, but the number of times your grade is above the median. This system, I think, stands the best chance of reducing the inflation because the letter grade is much less meaningful. Of course, it increases competition, but that’s sort of part of education at that level.

    The question about how many pages a student writes in a given program, I am skeptical of that. I don’t know many bio-chem majors who wrote 40 page papers. I sure never did. I majored in music. I don’t think you should get out of college without writing often and in many different disciplines, but I don’t know that the 40 page paper is necessarily the hallmark for all disciplines.

  2. Mike Woods says:

    This is off topic but thought you might be interested in a Presbyterian church’s Sabbath experiment.

  3. Rev Dr Mom says:

    Of course, I’m weeks late to this discussion, but I just want to add to Susan’s excellent comments that it starts way before college. And maybe grows out of the whole “self-esteem” movement–kids who don’t get good grades won’t feel good about themselves so everyone should get good grades. I quit teaching 9 years ago and it was rampant among my college students then, and I could see it at my youngest’s high school, too.

    The notion of the bell curve is so ingrained in me that I can’t quite get my head around what it means for the average grade in a class to be an “A”. Even if things aren’t normally distributed, is the bar set too low if EVERYONE achieves an outstanding level? Or does it just mean that the class was well taught and everyone met expectations?

    Or perhaps we’ve all just moved to Lake Woebegone, where all the kids are above average 🙂

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