An A and a 4.0 GPA mean less today than they did 50 years ago. Many students, high in hubris and low in modesty, wear their high GPAs on their sleeves proudly, while many of their As were given rather than earned.
The relative percentage of As given out has been on the rise in college classrooms for decades. One recent study puts the total percentage of the As throughout the U.S. university system at 43 percent, making it the most doled-out letter of the grading alphabet.
Half a century ago, grades were distributed on a fairer, more centrally balanced scale. As made up 15 percent of grades, while Bs and Cs each accounted for 35 percent of the pie, respectively.
As current students, it would be convenient to conclude that we’re smarter than past graduates. Unfortunately, that’s no more than wishful thinking according to the study and in-class evidence.
Everyone has sat in at least one class when a professor has asked a question based on prerequisite material, expecting the entire class to recite the answer as easily as the Pledge of Allegiance, only to find a crowded room of furrowed brows and uncomfortable silence.
This is a byproduct of grade inflation and the fact that we as students are spending less and less time studying and completing assignments.
The whole situation is a bit of a Catch-22. Students’ (and their parents’) wallets are fortunate for the curve, especially with the HOPE Scholarship creating a sort of artificial grading floor that many students can’t go under. Surely, it and similar scholarships have had some hand in the recent inflation rates.
The intellectual integrity of Tech and other four-year institutions is in a precarious state and suffering. Students are used to the higher grades, even if they aren’t always earned. And teachers are getting used to giving students the grades they want, not the ones they deserve.
I know of multiple students who have broken down into tears in front of teachers for a letter grade adjustment, convincing professors that there is some family emergency or medical crisis when there isn’t—and then gloating about it afterwards with glaring smiles as if they pulled off some sort of magic trick.
These professors and students are doing a disservice to the part of the student body who accept what they have earned, As or Fs. Not only are they cheapening the Tech degree, they’re cheapening the meaning of a high GPA at Tech.
It’s hard to blame the professors either. They have huge incentives to pad their students’ grades. Good reviews can in turn lead to faster promotions and better pay.
The authors of the study call the overall effect of higher grades “consumer-based,” by which professors allot higher grades to improve their students’ customer experiences. The effect is clearly more prevalent at private universities, but is also present in public institutions like Tech.
But while paying to go to school does make students consumers, grades aren’t and shouldn’t be a negotiation. They are a measurement of not only knowledge, but student character. Even a bad grade says something about a student.
A real grade shows the true character of its earner. An inflated one, like most things filled with hot air, will either pop or deflate given enough time in the real world.
Interestingly enough, the inflation effect is severely restricted or even nonexistent at non-selective public schools (those with rejection rates of about 15 percent or less and GPAs at or below 2.8) and community colleges.
It’s hard to imagine the trend reversing, or even slowing down, as long as it persists at other schools.
It seems that Tech, a school traditionally known for its challenging grading curves, is only following the paths of its peer institutions in an effort to recruit the best students. All students should get second opportunities, but not free passes.
As the study shows, Tech is hardly the worst inflation offender. And not all of its academic shifts have been for the worse. After all, drown-proofing no longer exists. So while we can’t hold our grades (after adjusted for inflation) over their heads, at least we don’t have to worry about getting an F in Drown-proofing, or what Tech students used to call “Drowning 101.”