Harvard Is Completely Ordinary When It Comes to Grade Inflation

Join the club. “A” is the most common grade across the country.

National Journal
Brian Resnick
See more stories about...
Brian Resnick
Dec. 4, 2013, 9:35 a.m.

Sorry, Har­vard, the news you dumped today isn’t all that spe­cial. The most com­mon grade awar­ded at your school is “A”. So what? Wel­come to the club of Amer­ic­an aca­demia. Grades have been on the rise na­tion­ally for dec­ades. And “A” is the most com­mon grade across the coun­try.

Ac­cord­ing to the work of Stu­art Rojstaczer, a former Duke Geo­phys­ics pro­fess­or who is prob­ably the most quoted source on this is­sue, the av­er­age GPA in Amer­ic­an col­leges rose from 2.52 in 1960 to 3.11 in 2006. That’s nearly a whole let­ter grade high­er.

The Uni­versity of Delaware, which I at­ten­ded, gave out a grade of A or A- 40 per­cent of the time in 2009. And that was just the av­er­age across all the col­leges and de­part­ments. Sev­enty per­cent of those tak­ing classes in the Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion re­ceived A’s.

Brown Uni­versity made sim­il­ar news in 2008 when it was re­vealed that more than 50 per­cent of all grades dis­trib­uted were A’s. Yale gives out A’s 62 per­cent of the time. It would be much weirder if Har­vard trended in the oth­er dir­ec­tion.

Keep in mind there’s a huge gulf in the grades of quant­it­at­ive sub­jects like sci­ence and math and more qual­it­at­ive sub­jects like Eng­lish and his­tory. At Delaware, for in­stance, the bio­logy de­part­ment only awar­ded A’s 20 per­cent of the time.

Grade in­fla­tion is only a prob­lem if you think GPAs are im­port­ant. The more you com­pact all grades in­to the high 3.5-4.0 range, the less abil­ity they have to il­lus­trate mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ences between stu­dents.

That’s a good thing for Har­vard stu­dents, as grade in­fla­tion works in their fa­vor, and it’s bad news for every­one else. A study pub­lished in Ju­ly found that, in an ex­per­i­ment, hy­po­thet­ic­al stu­dents from a strict-grad­ing school were ad­mit­ted to MBA pro­grams just 11 per­cent of the time while those from a grade-in­flated school were ad­mit­ted 72 per­cent of the time. That was true even though ad­mis­sions of­ficers were giv­en the in­di­vidu­al grades with the ad­ded con­text of how oth­er stu­dents at that school per­formed.

“People rely heav­ily on nom­in­al per­form­ance (such as GPA) as an in­dic­at­or of suc­cess while fail­ing to suf­fi­ciently take in­to ac­count in­form­a­tion about the dis­tri­bu­tions of per­form­ances from which it came,” the au­thors con­cluded.

So good work, Har­vard! Fi­nally, your stu­dents will be no­ticed.

What We're Following See More »
WORDS AND PICTURES
White House Looks Back on bin Laden Mission
10 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
DOWN TO THE WIRE
Sanders Looks to Right the Ship in Indiana
12 hours ago
THE LATEST

Hillary Clinton may have the Democratic nomination sewn up, but Bernie Sanders apparently isn't buying it. Buoyed by a poll showing them in a "virtual tie," Sanders is "holding three rallies on the final day before the state primary and hoping to pull off a win after a tough week of election losses and campaign layoffs." 

Source:
‘SPOOKED’ IN NORTH DAKOTA
Cruz Delegates Having Second Thoughts?
16 hours ago
THE LATEST

As unbound delegates pledged to Ted Cruz watch him "struggle to tread water in a primary increasingly dominated by Trump, many of them, wary of a bitter convention battle that could rend the party at its seams, are rethinking their commitment to the Texas senator."

Source:
MORE PRESSURE ON CONGRESS TO ACT
Puerto Rico to Default on Payment Today
16 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The confrontation between debt-swamped Puerto Rico and its creditors is intensifying as the U.S. territory will default on payments due Monday, deepening the island's financial crisis and placing additional pressure on Congress to intervene." The amount of the default is estimated at $422 million.

Source:
A RARE KIND OF REBUKE
Leading Republicans Would Say ‘No Thanks’ If Asked to Be Trump’s VP
19 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Nikki Haley. Jeb Bush. Scott Walker. Lindsey Graham. John Kasich. The list is growing ever longer of Republicans who say they wouldn't even consider becoming Donald Trump's running mate. "The recoiling amounts to a rare rebuke for a front-runner: Politicians usually signal that they are not interested politely through back channels, or submit to the selection process, if only to burnish their national profiles."

Source:
×