RSWS3345-Spring 2013 May 6, 2013
Grades A and B are sometimes given too readily ____Grade A for work of not very high merit, and Grade B for work not far above mediocrity….One of the chief obstacles for raising the standards of the degree is the readiness in which insincere students gain passable grades by sham work.1 ____Report of the Committee on Raising the Standard, Harvard University, 1894 Is Grade Inflation a Reality at American Colleges?
Concerns regarding grade inflation at America’s higher learning institutions date back for over a century. However, recently the subject became a hot topic for discussion when Harvard University Professor Harvey C. Mansfield reported to the Boston Globe that 51% of all grades at this elite university are A’s, compared to the number of A grades awarded in 1985, which totaled fewer than 33%. Mansfield also noted that 91% of Harvard’s graduating class had received summa, magna, or cum laude honors (Mansfield, 2001, p.1). His article sparked a nationwide debate, which continues today: Is grade inflation at U.S. colleges a real problem or simply a myth?
There are those who believe that grade inflation is a myth and that the recent rise in grades at colleges throughout the country is a result of better students (Hunt, 2008, p.1). These disbelievers generally point to one study of college transcripts conducted by Charles Adelman, which showed a small decline in grades over a twenty- year period. However, Adelman’s report failed to take into account that during the period of his research, college enrollments increased by more than 50% and “high enrollments may have diluted the talent pool, keeping grades low” (Schneider, 2012, p.2). While local increases in student quality may account for part of the grade inflation at some schools, it cannot explain the national trend since the mid 1980’s (Rojstaczer & Healy, 2012, p.9) of substantially rising grades prevalent at college campuses across the nation. There is no evidence that indicates the rising grades, which have steadily increased from the mid 1980’s and continues today is due to an increase in student achievement. This is evidenced by the fact that SAT scores have remained constant while grades have continued to rise (Schneider, 2012, p.2)
Grade Inflation is a reality in America today. Like a fast spreading, contagious, airborne virus; it appears to know no limits, does not discriminate, and has infected U.S. post-secondary learning institutions at community college campuses, public universities and private, ivy-league schools throughout the country.
Examining the Facts
Evidence of grades gradually increasing over time is documented in a variety of sources. Phillip Babcock refers to a study conducted by researchers Kuh and Huh in 2002, which compiled data on self-reported GPA’s. Their findings showed that “average grades increased for all types of post-secondary institutions…with the largest increases observed at research universities” (Babcock, 2009, p.3). Stuart Rojstaczer & Christopher Healy conducted their comprehensive study in 2010 on the evolution of grading at U.S colleges over the past 70 years. Their research examined how instructors’ assessments of excellence, mediocrity, and failure have changed over time and their method of research consisted of compiling historical and contemporary data on A-F letter grades awarded at more than 200 colleges with contemporary data derived from a pool of 135 schools where the total student enrollment equaled 1.5 million (Rojstaczer & Healy, 2012, p.1).
Their data concluded that grading practices at public and private schools remained constant for decades, but underwent “gradual yet significant changes” in the early 1960’s