Green Room

The Dangers of Grade Inflation for Young America

posted at 7:07 pm on May 31, 2012 by

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 is 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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Well written piece, Ms. Lutz. It’s refreshing to see a young person who isn’t looking for the easy way out. Education in America needs to revamped from the ground up. I am amazed and astonished at what my children aren’t learning in school and equally important what they aren’t expected to learn.

hopeful on May 31, 2012 at 7:55 PM

This isn’t really new; while it has suddenly come to the attention of academia, business hasn’t expected a college grad to know much for 20 years or more.

halfbaked on May 31, 2012 at 7:59 PM

it’s so hard to read something like this when you’re a college student who has struggled so much, gotten low grades, and even failed classes. i was actually a good student before college- college just works differently i guess. i don’t know what to say other than it’s hard for me. you make it sound so easy, thanks a lot for completely ignoring the difficulties some college students have.

College Students are more likely to focus on their social lives rather than their academic record.

that’s funny because my social life was more active before college than during it.

Most students today are forced to memorize facts, equations, and theories instead of actually learning about them.

actually for me this was more true in high school than college. (though a few college classes are like that too)

Fifty percent of students also said that they had never taken a class in which they wrote more than 20 pages in a semester.

do you realize that not everyone is good at writing papers?! i am good at writing papers but only when they’re short… (unless it’s a fiction story, then i can write forever.) and anyway, why does it matter how long a paper is, as long as it’s written well? quality over quantity. it’s not about how many pages a student has written, it’s how well they do it.

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 have a lower GPA… but i’m also trying internship (and volunteer) opportunities, to make up for that and add to my resume. so you’re right, GPA isn’t all that matters. although i’d rather have a high one than a low one- be happy you have a high GPA!

This isn’t really new; while it has suddenly come to the attention of academia, business hasn’t expected a college grad to know much for 20 years or more.

halfbaked on May 31, 2012 at 7:59 PM

really? because a lot of businesses want to hire people who have degrees. many specifically state “bachelor’s required” or something like that.

Sachiko on May 31, 2012 at 8:55 PM

Sachiko on May 31, 2012 at 8:55 PM

 
Don’t give up, but do try new stuff. I went into a math-heavy field and was horrible at it, but I knew what I needed and I knew I’d have to struggle. It took tutoring and two hours plus every night on my work, and sometimes I just needed to find the corner of the library that I could work best in. Find used books on Amazon that might help. Look for answer keys (not to cheat but to help see the steps). Ask that pretty girl/guy how to do a problem. Two heads can be better than one very often.
 
I’m proud of you for it being hard. I knew too many kids who were taking courses they didn’t even have to go to class for. College needs to be hard. You’re not learning if it’s not.
 
Hindsight- If there are courses that can get you out of the more difficult classes, don’t take them. Logic vs. calculus, take calculus. Don’t skip physics. Don’t dodge the hard classes. You need them. You don’t know why yet, buy you do. Trust me.
 
And every once in a while you’ll find a great teacher. Mine was the hardest I’d ever studied under, a 500 level grad/undergrad shared class. We were required to give a fifteen minute presentation on some highly detailed material for our midterm, and he gave us a horrible three hour/five-question test for our final.
 
Everone finished but no one was allowed to leave until he told us how he graded. You only got one score, and it was based on the work you did best. Some do presentations best, and some work best with equations and historical problems, and he wouldn’t tell you which he graded from.
 
I would never have him as an instructor again, but he changed how I looked at school. My confidence levels went up since I worked hard on both and did well in the class, but more importantly was knowing that there were a few decent professors out there.
 
Good luck, don’t give up, and do your best.
 
And my old man advice if those three don’t work out: If you’re going to be dumb, be tough.
 
We love you, are rooting for you, and are praying for you. And you can do it. Stay with it.

rogerb on May 31, 2012 at 9:23 PM

Just what the dems want. Generations of dumbass, brainwashed, liberals with useless degrees and a HUGE student loan held by, you guessed it, the obama plantation. Obama says jump, art majors say ‘how high?’

frizzbee on May 31, 2012 at 9:28 PM

really? because a lot of businesses want to hire people who have degrees. many specifically state “bachelor’s required” or something like that.

Well, Sachiko, one of the things you are seeing is that the Federal government won’t allow their contractors on most contracts to hire anyone who doesn’t have a degree. That percolates down to state governments using Federal dollars too.

Second, what a degree really represents to most businesses is that you can make and execute a long term project, and show a work ethic and stick to it.

SDN on May 31, 2012 at 11:59 PM

rogerb on May 31, 2012 at 9:23 PM

Great response, absolutely great, and I’d say you have spoken for many of us.

Learning that I could do things that were hard for me, but that it took work and not giving up, is one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Good teachers come in different types and styles. But the ones who expected the most of you echo across your years in a very specual way.

Thank you, Dr. Bradley. Dr. Steib. Dr. Perrot. Mrs. Branson. Mrs. Beck. Mr. Stearman. Sister Damian. Father Martin. Mrs. Anderson. Mrs. Sellers.

Thank you.

J.E. Dyer on June 1, 2012 at 10:41 AM

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Allahpundit on June 2, 2012 at 12:50 AM