Grade inflation is back. After a big episode during the Vietnam war to protect students’ draft deferments, grade inflation re-emerged in force starting in 1986, according to a study published in The Teachers College Record of Columbia University.
The percentage of A’s awarded to undergraduates at many institutions is approaching 50 percent. Instead of representing extraordinary excellence, A’s are quickly becoming the norm with B’s for the also-rans and C’s being the academic equivalent of abject failure.
The University of Florida bestows A’s on 47 percent of its undergrads, up 14 percent in the last 10 years (33 percent B’s, 14 percent C’s & 5 percent D’s and F’s). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill grants 45 percent A’s, up from 8 percent a decade ago (37 percent B’s, 13 percent C’s and 5 percent D’s and F’s). Penn State issues 44 percent A’s, up 6 percent over 10 years (33 percent B’s, 15 percent C’s, 8 percent D’s and F’s).
Princeton, which resolved in 2004 to cap A’s at 35 percent, is the lone counter-trend: 41 percent A’s, down 6 percent. However, Princeton has merely succeeded in shifting A’s to B’s: it currently is a leader in the percentage of B’s awarded: 49 percent, up 6 percent, the exact percentage A’s went down!
Rutgers, while still awarding 6 percent more A’s than a decade ago is to be commended for still having one of the highest standards for awarding A’s: only 34 percent of its undergrads received its highest mark. However, Rutgers was also one of the relatively few universities where the percentage of B’s (38 percent) exceed the percentage of A’s (C’s = 20 percent with 8 percent total D’s and F’s).
If the A’s represent total and complete mastery of meaningful, material academic subject matter I’d be very happy. Unfortunately, it is much more likely a symptom of our culture’s ever-increasing sense of entitlement and the relaxation of standards of performance and accountability.
How we perform as a country is but the sum total of how we perform as individuals. Low balling standards simply sets us up to fail when the real tests of life come calling.