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Colleges Taking Closer Look at Grade Inflation

February 17, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

It may not make students too happy, but a number of schools across the country are taking a closer look at whether their professors are doling out marks that are a bit on the high side.

According to a study conducted by the University of Oregon's Undergraduate Council, the number of A's given to students increased by 10 percent over a 12-year period, and the school's overall GPA has increased by about 5 percent. The average SAT score, however, has remained the same, suggesting that students aren't necessarily studying harder, but benefiting from grade inflation at work.

In a story from news station KVAL CBS 13 in Eugene yesterday, administrators said the school needs to come up with guidelines where students are awarded grades that are reflective of their work, and where students aren't just given a "B" for showing up on time. "If all the grades are squeezed in between B+ and A+ what are we really communicating to students about the quality of their work?" Karen Sprague, vice provost for undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon asked in the story.

Princeton University has been trying to put a stop to grade inflation for six years now, with some in its student body complaining of the opposite - grade deflation. A recent article in the New York Times said students on campus were worried about other Ivy League students who perhaps didn't have to work as hard. One student in the article described the "nightmare scenario" of competing against someone from Yale University who had a 3.8 GPA, compared to his 3.5. The percentage of students with Princeton "As" was below 40 percent last year, down from nearly 50 percent when the policy was adopted in 2004, according to the New York Times. In a survey last year by the undergraduate student government, 32 percent of students said grade deflation was their main source of unhappiness. About 25 percent said they were more unhappy with lack of sleep.

An easy fix would be to give only those students As who deserve them, without figuring in quotas of how many high marks a professor is allowed to award or hold back. This would require a campus-wide standard, however, that takes a close look at defining "excellence," a criteria for that A grade. Students' expectations may need to be tweaked as well, as grade inflation isn't only limited to college campuses. Not too long ago, some high schools considered placing limits on how low to go; some schools argued that awarding scores below the 50 percent mark may do more harm than good, worried that improving those GPAs could become an impossible feat for students with a particularly low grade.


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