According to some recently compiled data, American college students may not be earning the grades they’re receiving. An article released in The Atlantic this month suggested that students have grade inflation to thank for their GPAs.
“Students aren’t getting smarter,” said Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke professor who left to study grade inflation. He argues that student performance has not improved sufficiently to justify the grade inflation.
Yet according to a study released in Columbia University’s Teachers College Record, the average college GPA has dramatically increased from the 1930s. The question is whether student performance has earned that increase, and whether it is beneficial or harmful to students.
Grade inflation is something professors are conscious of, said Chair of the English Department Suzanne Matson. “David Quigley, now Provost, brought it to the attention of the Chairs when he was Dean. He really wanted to make sure that no more than half of the grades in undergraduate were A’s and A-'s,” she said.
“We are all very aware of grade inflation and are actively working against it,” said Dr. Ellen Winner, Chair of the Psychology Department. “Of course, grade inflation actually harms students because it reduces the value of grades as they are less predictive.”
While teachers are increasingly aware of grade inflation, “There’s no formula we go by for any particular class, it depends on that class, and it depends on those students,” said Professor Matson.
Other department chairs concurred. "We have never 'targeted' any particular grade or distribution," said Dr. Sarah Babb, Chair of the Sociology Department. What has helped, she says, is showing individual professors where they come in in the departmental distribution of A's and A-'s.
However, grade inflation is an issue across the country, not just at BC. While a C is supposed to be the average grade, that is no longer the reality, especially at a private institution like BC. “We have very talented students coming in; they’ve achieved at very high levels in high school,” Professor Matson said. "[By lowering the grade] we would be doing a disservice to our students who are applying to graduate and professional schools."
The median grade now in the English department is a B+, which Professor Matson feels is appropriate. “To reflect the reality of where our students are coming in and our peer schools, B+ is a reasonable median grade,” she said.