The average college student’s GPA rose from 2.52 in the 1950s to 3.11 in 2006. At many universities, the most common grade is an ‘A.’
These and other statistics show that American four-year educational institutions have massively shifted their grading systems to award ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades to most students, according to USA Today.
Is it a problem if the average college student receives above average grades? Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University professor who studies grade inflation, thinks so.
“In a fair grading system, you reward people for their outstanding achievements,” said Rojstaczer. Grade inflation “lowers the intensity and intellectual level in many classes.”
Of course, grade inflation is not even across the board. Elite and private universities inflate more heavily, while community colleges give comparatively honest grades and even flunk students. Yale University, for instance, gave an ‘A’ grade 62 percent of the time last year.
Yale administrators briefly considered instituting a deliberate grade deflation, but relented.
Princeton University, on the other hand, is nearly 10 years into its calculated grade deflation program, which it may suspend due to student complaints.
“These kids don’t want to be the ones explaining to med school or graduate school why they have lower grades than kids from Yale and Harvard who also have very high MCAT scores and extracurriculars,” said Chuck Hughs, a college admissions adviser, in a statement to The Yale Daily News.
Subject matters as well. Mathematics departments tend to grade more rigorously than liberal arts.
The easiest subject? Education, where 71 percent of all grades are ‘A’s.
“For fun, I took the most recent data I could from quite a few colleges across the country,” said Christopher Healy, a professor of computer science at Furman University, in a statement to USA Today. “The toughest subject was math. At the opposite extreme is education.”
In some sense, higher grades may be deserved, since the U.S. population, as measured by standardized tests, has grown more intelligent over time. Still, studies of young and college-aged people today show that they study less than previous generations and don’t score meaningfully better on standardized tests — despite receiving more ‘A’s and holding much higher opinions of themselves. (RELATED: The deluded generation: Teens clueless about own abilities, finances, prospects)
In any case, the trend toward A-is-average will likely continue. Students want higher grades for less work, professors know that they will receive more favorable evaluations if they give ‘A’s, and the college reaps reputational advantages if it fosters an A+ student body.