In the college classroom, is an A the new B? Grade inflation is of particular concern in graduate programs, where it is not uncommon for 75 percent of grades to be As. In fact, the most frequent grade given in U.S. universities is an A, by 43 percent. This percentage has risen from 30 percent 20 years ago, representing a significant increase. And at Harvard, the average grade is an A-. While this
may sound like a great place to be, there is a powerful downside to grade inflation. If an A- is the new class average, the crowding of grades at the top end of the scale can sap away the student’s motivation to work hard. Organizations also have a tougher time of evaluating candidates’ transcripts if grades are inflated, which means they must rely more on results of standardized tests, often ones that were taken in high school, that may not reflect a student’s current or best capabilities. Professors too may be less
motivated to accurately assess and teach students through strong grading feedback that would help students learn. There is no easy solution to the phenomenon of grade inflation. In a culture where “everyone does it,” schools that take a stand against grade inflation produce students with potentially lower grades—but no less education—than their peers. These students may not be able to stand
out in the increasingly competitive job market even when they are equally prepared. Over time, their schools will not be able to boast of the accomplishments of their graduates in terms of grades and employment placements. No longer will these schools look as attractive to potential students, so
enrollment and thus revenue will suffer, endangering the institution’s ability to teach. Therefore, eliminating grade inflation poses powerful disincentives, and few if any colleges have successfully tried it. There is much more motivation for organizations, schools, professors, and students to continue grade inflation practices, even though they may be wrong.
7-10. How could you manage an engineered downgrade to C as an average?
7-11. If an employer can no longer distinguish between candidates on the basis of grades, how can they
distinguish between them?
7-12. State funding of many schools has decreased dramatically over the years, increasing the pressure
on administrators to generate revenue through tuition increases and other means. How might this
pressure create ethical tensions among the need to generate revenue, student retention, and grading?
Sources: A. Ellin, “Failure Is Not an Option,” The New York Times, April 15, 2012, 13–14; A. Massoia,
“The New Normal: The Problem of Grade Inflation in American Schools,” The Huffington Post, January 12, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/angelina-massoia/the-new-normal-the-proble_b_6146236.html15; and S. Slavov, “How to Fix College Grade Inflation,” US News, December 26, 2013, http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/economic-intelligence/2013/12/26/why- college-grade-inflation-isa-real-problem-and-how-to-fix-it.
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