If you’ve spent a Saturday morning driving around Suburbia, it’s entirely possible that you’ve seen hordes of children playing soccer in leagues that don’t keep score. Preferring to focus on "fun" and "positivity," the kids in these leagues don’t learn about winning and losing, but rather, the importance of simply showing up and participating. Certainly the kids are having fun, but some parents worry that a game without consideration of effort may be sending children the wrong message.
It seems that the same concept is increasingly being applied to higher education, and especially at top schools like Harvard and Columbia, where making it through a stringent admissions process practically grants students the ticket to an Ivy League 3.0 GPA or higher. We’ve discovered 11 statistics that indicate grade inflation is a serious problem that may have today’s college students feeling like they’re playing a game without consequences.
- Inflation is the worst at private schools: Trends in grading from about 230 colleges and universities indicate that although grade inflation is a problem in all schools, private institutions have a larger gap than public institutions. Between 1991 and 2007, public schools had a grade inflation gap of 0.16 points, where private schools had a gap of 0.21, 0.05 points higher.
- Hardly anyone gets Cs or less anymore: By the end of the 2000s, almost all of the grades distributed at public and private schools were As and Bs. At public schools, Bs and higher made up 73% of all grades, and at private schools, high achieving grades were even more common at 86%.
- Inflation seems to be leaving some minorities behind: While whites and Asian-Americans are often earning higher grades, blacks and Hispanics are lagging. Recent stats indicate that 28% of whites and 24% of Asian-Americans typically received As, but just 15% of African Americans and 18% of Hispanics earned the same.
- Overall, inflation is on a steady rise: According to Teachers College Record, grades are consistently going up by 0.1 point per decade. Certainly, this doesn’t sound like a lot, but that means by the year 2050, grades will be up nearly 0.5 from where they are now, a significant number when you’re working on a scale from zero to four.
- Some professors haven’t handed out C grades in several years: One science professor at Duke University, Stuart Rojstaczer, admits that even in 2003, it had been more than two years since he gave out a C in his class. This prompted a desire to research what grading is like for other professors at elite institutions, and he found that less than 2% of grades given at schools like Duke, Columbia, and Harvard are Ds or Fs.
- Grade inflation is not at all a new problem: Although it seems grade inflation has gotten worse in recent years, the issues we’re dealing with today are not a new problem. All the way back in 1894, a Harvard report expressed concern that it had become too easy to earn A and B grades. Another report indicates that Harvard grade inflation from 1930 to 1966 was on par with the rise from 1967 to the present.
- Students follow the grades: Who wouldn’t want an A instead of a B? At Duke, research indicates that students are much more likely to enroll in a course that has an A- average than a course that has a B average. Sites like RateMyProfessor.com make it all too convenient for students to discover which classes will result in an easy A.
- Grade inflation favors liberal arts colleges: Research from Duke professor Stuart Rojstaczer follows along with the previous indication that students often flock to the higher grades that are more common in "easier" classes like humanities. Rojstaczer has found that typically, colleges focusing on the sciences had less grade inflation than those that did not.
- It is rare for college students to earn a D or F: Students who took a college class in 2008 were much more likely to get a C or higher than a D or F. In fact, in that particular year, the chances of getting a D or F were only one in 10. Some experts believe that professors feel pressure to give students a higher grade for the increasingly higher tuition that they spend to be enrolled in their courses.
- Grade inflation isn’t just an American problem: Schools in the UK are experiencing grade inflation on a similar scale to the U.S. Top-level degrees have increased by 34% in recent years. Some experts argue, however, that this is due to an increased interest in higher achieving degrees, and not an indication of inflation.
- It’s gotten so bad, GPAs matter less than before: The Teachers College Record reports that at highly selective schools, there is so much saturation at the high end of the GPA scale, that they hardly matter anymore. Students are less motivated to compete to make a difference of 0.005 on their GPA, while employers and graduate schools use GPAs less often as an evaluation tool.