By the late 1980s, GPA’s were rising at a rate of 0.1 points per decade (see top chart), a rate 1/4 of that experienced during the Vietnam era (the pace was so slow that until the 2000s it wasn’t entirely clear that it was a national phenomenon). Grades are rising for all schools and the average GPA of a school has been strongly dependent on its selectivity since the 1980s. At Brigham Young, GPAs have remained steady year after year. Then grades rose dramatically. Students were no longer thought of as acolytes searching for knowledge. No other school in our database (and I’m certain no school anywhere in the US) has had a drop or rise in GPA anywhere close to this size over a period of two years. The influence of affirmative action is sometimes used to explain consumer era grade inflation. During this era, which has yet to end, student course evaluations of classes became mandatory, students became increasingly career focused, and tuition rises dramatically outpaced increases in family income. By March 2003, I had collected data on grades from over 80 schools. Both intellectual rigor and grading standards have weakened. CSU-San Bernardino almost completely overlaps UW-Milwaukee. While local increases in student quality may account for part of the grade rises seen at some institutions, the national trend cannot be explained by this influence. This isn't exactly correct. July 7, 2016 update: Added some Canadian schools and updated data for three four-year American schools. Where has the fashion of rising grades ended? New York Times Economix blog Q&A about grade inflation, here. I saw in past years students talked about grade deflation and something along the lines of only 18% of a class being able to get an A. I was wondering if anyone can shed some light on this as a prospective pre-med student who wants to major in computational neuroscience. The truth is that, for a variety of reasons, professors today commonly make no distinctions between mediocre and excellent student performance and are doing so from Harvard to CSU-San Bernardino. Humanities majors and classes have become increasingly unpopular despite their nearly universally high grades. Some have made statements that grade inflation in the consumer era has been driven by the rise of adjunct faculty. The figure above shows the average undergraduate GPAs for four-year American colleges and universities from 1983-2013 based on data from: Alabama, Alaska-Anchorage, Appalachian State, … Grade Variation Between Disciplines and As a Function of School Selectivity. The bottom line is that grading nearly everywhere is easy. Some schools aren’t labeled because they cluster together and hug the blue line over the last 15 to 25 years: Brown, DePauw, Hampden-Sydney, Iowa State, Roanoke, Rensselaer, SUNY-Oswego, UC-San Diego, Virginia, West Georgia, and Western Michigan. I was worried about finding academic success at USC, so Harvard only increases that worry. Note that inclusion in these averages does not imply that an institution has significant inflation. Will this plateau be long lived? The above mentioned studies indicate that student quality increases cannot account for the magnitude of grade inflation observed. The blue line is the expected amount of GPA rise a school would have if it were a garden-variety grade inflator. College grading on an A-F scale has been in widespread use for about 100 years. In the Vietnam era, grades rose partly to keep male students from flunking out (and ending up being drafted into war). Note that the data consist of two types, "GPA equivalent" and standard GPA. My attitude about these top-down clamps on grades (to be fair, Princeton’s past effort to deflate grades was not strictly top-down; the change was approved overwhelmingly by the faculty) is positive. Historical numbers on average percent A’s in this update are the same as those found in our 2012 paper (which had much more extensive data). In 2000, Wellesley had the highest average GPA in our database, 3.55. But grade rises ended over a decade ago at two-year schools nationally (of course there are exceptions to this average behavior) and at schools in the California Community Colleges System. The bulk of grade inflation at these institutions is due to other factors. At both Texas and Duke, GPA increases of about 0.25 were coincident with mean SAT increases (Math and Verbal combined) in the student population of about 50 points. For example, the average GPA of Reed College graduates hovered between 3.12 and 3.20 from 1991 and 2008 as a result of a school-wide grading policy. By 2013, the average college student had about a 3.15 GPA (see first chart) and forty-five percent of all A-F letter grades were A’s (see second chart). The influence of adjunct faculty on grades has been overstated. When data sources do not indicate how GPAs were computed, I denote this as "method unspecified." Some schools that were relatively immune to grade inflation in the 1990s, such as University of Nebraska-Kearney and Purdue, have experienced significant consumer-era inflation in the 2000s. But there have been some attempts, notably at Duke, Texas and Wisconsin, to quantify this relationship using increases in SAT or ACT as a surrogate for increases in student quality. This web site began as the data link to an op-ed piece I wrote on grade inflation for the Washington Post, Where All Grades Are Above Average, back in January 2003. was nothing crazy. It’s essentially the percent A’s curve of the second figure in terms of GPA, flipped horizontally and then vertically. It’s not surprising that schools with the highest tuition not only tend to have the highest grades, but have grades that continue to rise significantly. Grade inflation is one of several gimmicks graduate schools are using to boost their new, fledgling alumni, including paying companies to take them on for trial periods or holding recruiting seminars earlier in the year. I want to thank those who have helped us by either sending data or telling us where we can find data. At the end of the Vietnam era of grade inflation, Juola wrote a short and prescient paper that both documented the end of the era and warned against further inflation in the future. Vietnam era grade inflation produced the same rise in average GPA, 0.4 points. Even though I took the most rigorous schedule I could take in my high school (4 AP's, 2 Dual Enrollment courses/ 12th grade semester), that pales in comparison to likely 99% of everybody else that got in. Institutions comprising this average were chosen strictly because they have either published grade data or have sent recent data (2012 or newer) to the author covering a span of at least eleven years. Some schools have given me data with the requirement that they be kept confidential. But the consumer era rise in average GPA is much more modest at community colleges and totals about 0.1 points (a rise to a 2.8 average GPA) at its peak. It is commonly said that there is more grade inflation in the sciences than in the humanities. 1 year ago. For those interested in such things, those in the social sciences - like true politicians - tend to grade between the extremes of the humanities and natural sciences. If you see any errors, please report them. USC’s average GPA is 3.18 — below the national average for private universities. That makes it more difficult to compare students from different universities on GPA alone – is a 3.9 GPA at a school with known grade inflation really better than a 3.7 GPA at a university without? America’s professors and college administrators have been promoting a fiction that college students routinely study long and hard, participate actively in class, write impressive papers, and ace their tests. When schools that once publicly displayed data online stop doing so, we have to drop them from our database. In a paper on grade inflation, Rojstaczer argued that affluent students who tend to go to these schools in much higher numbers are receiving an unfair advantage by getting easier A’s. Significant grade inflation is present everywhere and contemporary rates of change in GPA are on average the same for public and private schools. A good deal of the data were in terms of percent grade awarded. GPA equivalent is not the actual mean GPA of a given class year, but represents the average grade awarded in a given year or semester. You have to work your ass off to get an A. The figure above shows the average undergraduate GPAs for four-year American colleges and universities from 1983-2013 based on data from: Alabama, Alaska-Anchorage, Appalachian State, Auburn, Brigham Young, Brown, Carleton, Coastal Carolina, Colorado, Columbia College (Chicago), Columbus State, CSU-Fresno, CSU-San Bernardino, Dartmouth, Delaware, DePauw, Duke, Elon, Emory, Florida, Furman, Gardner-Webb, Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Gettysburg, Hampden-Sydney, Illinois-Chicago.
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