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The Truth Behind Grade Inflation

The study rooms are booked for the rest of the year, the booths in the first floor of O’Neill are permanently taken and even the quietest sneeze in Bapst is reciprocated with a death stare from one’s neighbor. It’s finals time, and the stress is palpable.

Students are spending countless hours studying and researching to get those flawless test scores and immaculate essays. One question remains, though: what do those grades actually mean?

The classic triangle of college life. Image courtesy of collegiate-dreams/Tumblr

The classic triangle of college life.
Image courtesy of collegiate-dreams/Tumblr

For getting into the most selective graduate programs and obtaining the most competitive internships and jobs, GPA can be the difference between acceptance and denial. Yet, there has been a lot of controversy over grade inflation in recent years with the concern that students are receiving higher grades, but they are not reflective of the students’ true academic performance. These grades are seen as ego boosters rather than standards to measure how well a student has mastered the material.

There have been claims that professors at prestigious institutions give their students better grades in order to please them and receive more desirable end-of-the-semester evaluations. These evaluations hold significant weight, as they typically influence whether or not these professors keep their jobs.

It has also been said that departments with declining enrollment also use relaxed grading measures in an effort to entice students to sign up for their courses. Boston College students are no exception to the rule. PEPS, the UGBC’s professor evaluation system, is filled with reviews stating the difficulty of the course and the possibility of obtaining an A as a final grade. Introduction to Theater courses, for examples, are often chosen over other fine arts courses, because they are seen as the easiest way to ace the core.

Photo courtesy fo Getty Images.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

There have also been studies that suggest that grade inflation is more prevalent at private universities than public universities, though there is no hard data to suggest why this is the case.

In 2008, the BC Chronicle reported that grade inflation had become a significant problem at Boston College. According to a study done by the University Council on Teaching, the number of A and A- grades at BC increased from 32.4% in 1993-94 to 45% by 2000 and to 50% by 2007-08.

At Harvard, grade inflation has been a point of contention as well. The median grade at Harvard is an A-, while the most frequently awarded mark is an A. Those grades seem to contradict Harvard’s boasted image as a world-renowned Ivy League Instiution known for its competitive atmosphere and academic rigor.

Photo courtesy of ludwg/Flickr.

Photo courtesy of ludwg/Flickr.

The reality about grade inflation is that even though it sounds negative on paper, it might actually be helping these students to get accepted into graduate schools of their choice. In a study published in July in the journal PLOS ONE by the Public Library of Science, admissions officers were told that they were selecting students for an MBA program and were given the students GPAs and also how their performance compared to their peers.

All of the students in the study were deemed as average when compared to their peers at their own institutions. However, the average GPA at grade inflated, median and low grading norm universities were radically different—3.57, 3.25 and 2.93. Even though these students should have been seen as near equals, it was found that the students with grade-inflated GPAs were chosen over those with lower GPAs most of the time. The acceptance rates were 32%, 22% and 15% respectively.

There may not be an easy solution to the grade inflation problem. In 2004, Princeton University introduced a policy advising professors to cap ‘A’ grades at around 35%. This policy had to be re-evaluated this October, however, because students feared that grade deflation was hurting their chances of getting into graduate school. Yale also attempted a similar procedure last spring, but then postponed voting on the measure because of student protest. At Yale, almost 62% of students receive As.

No such measures have been taken at BC, where professors are allegedly pressured to stick to a strict grade distribution.

Featured photo courtesy of Bill Foshay/Gavel Photo Staff.