Grade Inflation Devalues Education
By Elaine Teng '12, Editor-in-Chief
When the average Amherst student gets a paper back from a professor today, chances are the grade, whatever it is, will be higher than what the student would have received 20 years ago. According to a recent study in The New York Times, college GPAs have increased an average of 0.1 points per decade over the last 50 years, with colleges and universities seeking to make their students more appealing to employers and graduate schools and boost their own reputation. However, while preparing students for the job market is an important aspect of college, it should be done through high standards and actual grading rather than gift-wrapping students in hollow, inflated numbers that will leave both employers and students ultimately coming up empty.

According to the study, the national average GPA from the 1950s was 2.52, a full 0.59 lower than the 3.11 around 2005. There is a reason why a C grade is defined as average in school; it was actually the average. Even if we assume that some of this can be attributed to more and more qualified students entering college, it cannot excuse this jump from a C average to a B-. Students have not miraculously become smarter or more studious in the last half-century. Schools have merely begun packaging them differently, private schools, in particular. Beginning in the 1950s, private school students began receiving significantly higher grades than their equally qualified public school counterparts. Today, the average private school GPA is 3.3. At public schools, it is 3.0. Harvard, the most prestigious of private schools, has seen its average GPA swell from 2.4 in 1914 to 3.45 in 2005, an entire letter grade up.

While some would like to believe that such grade inflation, essentially officially sanctioned cheating, does not exist at Amherst, it undeniably does. In 1989, the average GPA awarded at Amherst was 3.28. Ten years later, it had risen to 3.41, and by 2006, had settled at 3.48. At an institution that has always prided itself an its scholastic rigor and achievement, grade inflation inspires mediocrity in students who feel they only have to be slightly better than the next person to do well. In addition, it undermines the entire purpose of the College. While students might embrace the higher grades for less effort, professors should give credit where credit is due and not devalue the meaning of an A.

The study also found that science departments today generally grade 0.4 points lower than humanities departments and 0.2 lower than the social sciences. Whether this is merely due to the different natures of the disciplines, one more subjective than the other, or an actual conscious difference, the authors of the study feel that it encourages American students to shun the sciences for the supposedly easier humanities, hurting American scientific development and forcing companies to rely on foreign-born talent. While there is no clear way to regulate grading between these separate fields, they should be aware of this discrepancy and work to correct it if it grows any wider.

Even worse, one Californian law school, Loyola Law School of Los Angeles, announced that they would retroactively increase all grades by a third, so that what previously was a C+ would become a B-, a B- a B, etc. Essentially, all graduates would now be able to apply to jobs with GPAs 0.333 higher, a ploy the university hopes will boost their chances in the job market. Not only is this farce comical, but it is fundamentally dishonest and an insult to both students and employers. Loyola cannot possibly believe that companies will not see through these inflated numbers to students’ true capabilities and talents. If they do not already, employers should prefer students from schools with strict grading and a rigorous curriculum who have been tested and prepared rather than students who look better on paper. In an age where job competition is increasingly fierce, Loyola and all other colleges should focus their attention and energy on their curricula and teaching standards, the very reasons for their existence.

While students will not complain about receiving higher grades for less work, colleges should realize that they are hindering rather than helping their students. Colleges cannot place their reputation and image above actual education by sanctioning institutional cheating, and understand a basic principle of a discipline they all teach. Just as economic inflation cheapens the value of, grade inflation achieves exactly the opposite of what colleges hope it will, devaluing the school and the students alike.

Issue 23, Submitted 2010-04-21 03:25:31