So How Bad Is Grade Inflation?

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Cleaning out my parents’ attic the other day, we found my dad’s old college transcripts.  Turns out he wasn’t as much of an academic superstar as he always claims.  “But a C back then is like an A today!” was his excuse. 

And, as annoying as it is to admit, he’s kind of right.  We’ve all heard about grade inflation, but it turns out it may be more rampant than you may have guessed — at least at some schools.  Private colleges and universities have, on the whole, way more A’s and B’s than their equivalently selective public counterparts, which lends credence to the argument that you get the grades you pay for.  Geographically, the harshest graders are in the South.  Schools that focus on science and engineering give fewer A’s than liberal arts-focussed schools — something that’s probably no surprise to all those stressed out Johns Hopkins students out there.

But grade inflation’s influence stretches across the country — a full 43 percent of all letter grades given are A’s these days.  In 1960, they made up only 15 percent. Which begs the question(s):  does getting an A mean anything these days? Or is it true that, as one study’s authors assert, “It is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools, undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers.”



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