The dangers of grade inflation for young America

posted at 9:11 pm on June 1, 2012 by Amy Lutz

Congratulations, young America, you’ve reached the threshold of academic perfection. Recent studies have shown that an “A” is now the most common grade for college students in the United States. It’s nice to know that my generation is so well educated. Or perhaps not. Based upon a mountain of contradictory evidence and the environment I see all around me as an American college student, I hesitate to declare victory too soon. When you dig deeper the facts show that grade inflation is what really fuels our college students’ higher GPAs, and A today might be equivalent to a C forty years ago.

Despite the outward appearances of academic perfection, today’s students are not on an upward trajectory toward academic success. Last year, a USA Today report showed that college students make little academic progress in their first two years of college. In fact, 45 percent of students showed no significant gains, a figure which contradicts academia’s goal of educating students. College Students are more likely to focus on their social lives rather than their academic record. Professors caught up with their own research are less likely to pay attention to such habits. Additionally, students spend 50 percent less time studying now than they have in past decades. Fifty percent of students also said that they had never taken a class in which they wrote more than 20 pages in a semester. Good study habits must be developed early through hard work and challenging courses for academic success to be achievable. Even though grades may superficially be rising, good academic habits which produce long term success are lacking among today’s college students.

According to Craig Brandon, author of The Five-Year Party: How Colleges Have Given up on Educating Your Child and What You Can Do about It, educators have switched their main priority from education to retention. Because of the information boom of the last few decades, students are forced to grapple with an exponentially larger knowledge base. Today, with our advanced technology and record keeping systems, the amount of knowledge we have at our fingertips is seemingly infinite. The only way educators have so far determined to solve this issue is to focus more on memorization instead of instilling skills like critical thinking. Most students today are forced to memorize facts, equations, and theories instead of actually learning about them. Sure, their grades show the fruits of their efforts, but real education is deficient.

Grade inflation may also be a symptom of the “Participation Trophy” mentality that is increasingly prevalent in our society. In a article published by Minnesota State University, two suspected causes of grade inflation are “increased attention and sensitivity to personal crisis situations for students” and a “changing mission” directed as service or research rather than teaching. It’s important for universities to focus on creating well-rounded individuals. Some students do require extra help/time because of family crises or mental/physical health. However, education should still be a school’s primary focus. We are far too concerned with the feelings of students that some have undershot the goal of education. Inflated GPAs do nothing more than numb students from failure. Failure is a benchmark on the road to success. Where is the motivation to do better if you have no failure in your frame of reference? Inflated GPAs and weak grading standards only help to make failure (and conversely, success) more difficult to pinpoint.

Today’s college students are in for a rude awakening when we enter the job market. Numbed from failure and confident in an inflated GPA, many students will be slapped in the face with the prospect of failure. College should not only provide us with a good education; it should also prepare us for the real world (without sacrificing the education part of course). Failure is a part of life. GPAs don’t matter as much if they are all the same. An “A” isn’t an “A” when everyone has one. Educators need to face the fact that all students are different. Some can study for hours without learning a single thing while others breeze pass finals without opening their textbook. To deny this reality denies the intellectual diversity of college students.

It’s true that the cream rises to the top. Grades are an indicator of this future success if they are accurate. However, when they are not and grade inflation occurs, it’s more difficult for outstanding job applicants to separate themselves from the pack. I myself will be looking for a job in a year and it scares me that having a high GPA just won’t cut it anymore. Constantly, I find myself asking: “Am I doing enough to prepare myself for the workforce?”  I’m worried that the increase of grade inflation will make it difficult for college students like me to avoid falling into the deep abyss of unemployment.

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