Students are likely familiar with the current college scandal that unfolded this past month at elite universities, where wealthy parents gave university faculty members large sums of money in exchange for their children’s admission into the school. At the same time this is happening, there is another, more subtle scandal going on that you may have never heard of: grade inflation.
Grade inflation is exactly what is sounds like: schools are awarding students higher grades than the students deserve. A Forbes article titled “The ‘Other’ College Scandal: Grade Inflation Has Turned Transcripts into Monopoly Money,” reported that A is the most commonly awarded grade in higher education, accounting for 45 percent of all grades given. This has not always been the case. In the 1960s, this number was only 15 percent. According to a study conducted by the Teachers College Record, private institutions gave significantly more A’s and B’s than their public counterparts did. The study also states that GPAs at highly selective institutions are so high that they are likely no longer a motivator for students nor an evaluation tool for employers.
Grade inflation may benefit the student on an individual level because higher grades can lead to scholarships and lucrative job prospects, but on the whole, grade inflation does more harm than good. From an employer’s perspective, they will have no way of telling who is a good student and who isn’t. However, the real problem with grade inflation is that, like with the current college admissions scandal, it teaches some students they can get whatever they want without much effort.
It is not surprising why grade inflation is becoming a national trend, especially among private institutions. When a family pays high tuition at a private university, they will expect their child to do well in school, and this puts more pressure on professors to award high grades. If a student does not do well in a class, the professor risks being criticized by the student or their parents. Also, professors probably do not want to hurt job prospects for students, and they may do this by awarding higher grades.
There are several proposals to help combat grade inflation, although not all are necessarily fair to students. A US News report states that Princeton adopted a policy in 2004 that caps the number of A’s given to undergraduates to 35 percent. However, there is an obvious flaw with this policy: it can lower the grades of deserving students. As a result, Princeton is now reconsidering this policy.
It is possible to combat grade inflation without lowering student’s grades, and doing so is quite simple. The US News article also states that economist Tim Harford calls to remove the upper cap for grades. This means that students can earn marks higher than an A+ (for example, A++, A+++, etc). This would give more meaning to the group of students who earn A’s.
Another simple and viable solution is also being proposed by the Texas legislature: to contextualize grades shown on transcripts, according to the Forbes article. If the law is passed, transcripts from Texas universities will be required to include the average grade for the class alongside the grade the student received. This will provide context about how well the student did in comparison to the rest of the class.
Willamette’s Office of the Registrar declined to comment on whether WU inflates student’s grades, so it is currently unclear if grade inflation is happening at WU. However, it would be extremely easy for WU to combat grade inflation by contextualizing transcripts.
Grade inflation is an issue that needs to be addressed because it’s weakening the power of grades. If every student earns an A, then the grade no longer has much value.