Friday, July 15, 2011

High GPAs Have Little Use As Student Motivator or Evaluation Tool for Grad Schools and Employers

Stuart Rojstaczer is a retired Duke University professor who has tirelessly crusaded for several decades against "grade inflation" at U.S. universities and maintains a website with lots of historical GPA data and charts (GradeInflation.com).  The chart above illustrates grade inflation at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor over roughly the last half century (data here), with the average GPA rising from 2.57 in 1951 (C+/B-) to 3.27 by 2008 (B+).  The grade inflation at Michigan is similar to the national trend at most American universities over time.  

Catherine Rampell at the NY Times Economix Blog writes about a new paper by Professor Rojstaczer and co-author Christopher Healy titled "Where A Is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading, 1940–2009," published in the Teachers College Record.  The main findings of the paper appear below, illustrated by this chart: 


"Across a wide range of schools, As represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. Ds and Fs total typically less than 10% of all letter grades. Private colleges and universities give, on average, significantly more As and Bs combined than public institutions with equal student selectivity. Southern schools grade more harshly than those in other regions, and science and engineering-focused schools grade more stringently than those emphasizing the liberal arts. It is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools, undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers."

MP: It's the college version of the "Lake Wobegon effect" and "illusory superiority." 

20 Comments:

At 7/15/2011 11:14 AM, Blogger NormanB said...

Dr. Perry, if you have historical U of M GPA's for the engineering dept it would be instructive to see if there is any difference from the overall results.

 
At 7/15/2011 11:26 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

this trend has been in place for ages.

my old girlfriend was teaching a seminar on writing for the english department while she was a writer in residence there. the professor supervising it (department head) told her point blank that he wanted an explanation from her, in writing, for any grade she gave out below A-.

 
At 7/15/2011 12:30 PM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

From the GradeInflation.com cite:

The California Community College System, with two million students, "are where grade inflation does not seem to be common and grades have actually dropped"!

Very surprising and maybe those students should be evaluated more highly for employers and higher ed schools.

 
At 7/15/2011 2:02 PM, Blogger Joe said...

The department at my school did a report a few months ago about the comprehensive exam for phd students in my department. What they found was that the percentage of students passing the comps had gone down slightly, but the average grades of students who were failing was going up. Surprisingly, their reaction was not that this was evidence of grade inflation and that they need to figure out some way to address this so that grades can be used as a more reliable indicator of whether a student is prepared enough to take the comps; they took it as evidence that they need to make the comps easier.

 
At 7/15/2011 2:33 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

I don't think grades can be compared over time without controlling for technology and student age. I can complete a major research paper from home using reliable academic sources that would have taken many hours in a library with Dewey Decimal cards just a decade or two ago. For me, I consider myself a self-starter, anything that saves time increases my grades because time is my biggest limiting factor for achievement.

Another interesting factor for college grades is the average age of students. I have noticed I did better as an older student than I did when I was younger, this also shows up in my current grading pattern for the students I currently teach. So, if the average age of students is higher now than in the past, which I believe it is, and technology increases grades, which I believe it does, much of the “grade inflation” can be explained from these factors. I estimate my GPA is one letter grade higher than it would have been 20 or 30 years ago.

None of this means grades are not inflated. It does mean it will take much more than a chart with GPA and time on the axis to prove it.

 
At 7/15/2011 2:37 PM, Blogger Walt G. said...

Grade inflation can quite easily be cured by grading on a curve, but that might cause more problems than it solves unless you have a cohort student population.

 
At 7/15/2011 2:48 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

On the other hand, the competition to get into top-flight schools today in intense. The students at a UCLA are far better than 50 years ago.

If you grade on a curve, then yes, there should be more Bs and Cs.

But against a objective standard, it does make sense, at least at a top-flight public university, that students today are more disciplined and work harder and had higher IQ when they were selected to get in.

Maybe this is good news.

 
At 7/15/2011 3:51 PM, Blogger George said...

Speaking for myself, I have never used a curve. I do tell students there is only one failing grade, so there is no point in writing large numbers of exam questions to which even idiots know the answer in order to sort out the idiots, the total idiots and the people dumber than the rocks in my garden. The pass line is then about 45, *because I have cut out the easy questions*. As a result, I can write questions that spread out the A, B, C grades (that's all the grades we give) numerically, so that one can be more confident that one is seeing grade variations due to competence rather than skips of the pen (we have only hour exams, so there is little time for students to check their work).

There is considerable sentiment locally that we are seeing a bimodal student population, with very weak students and very motivated students, and a gap in between. Last year I had one course in which a third of the students did not pass by any conceivable standard, and the other two-thirds of the class did well everything I asked of them.

Morganovich -- that is why tenure is important, so that incompetent administrators have their damage-inducing abilities limited.

Assuredly student preparation is far higher than was once the case. My alma mater recently started requiring calculus via AP exams (or several alternatives) *as an entrance requirement* and, no, they do not offer make-up courses. Anyone who can't solve how to satisfy the requirement is clearly not up to passing through and getting a degree, and might as well be sent on their way ahead of time.

 
At 7/15/2011 4:21 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"High GPAs Have Little Use As Student Motivator or Evaluation Tool for Grad Schools and Employers"...

Well pretty soon employers will have NO use for college graduates & post graduates coming out of California regardless of their GPA...

Less Academics, More Narcissism

 
At 7/15/2011 4:50 PM, Blogger Innovation rules said...

Perhaps more appropriate to view university grading as 'pass' or 'fail.'

 
At 7/15/2011 5:01 PM, Blogger Innovation rules said...

FWIW, having hired hundreds (over a thousand?) folks, I do not usually look at grades because they vary so much over time and location, as does the life situation in which they were earned.

I would hire a college grad who held a job during that time over a student with high grades.

I would hire a single mother who got a degree and who also works over a top student if their interviews were equal.

IOW, I look for discipline and emotional maturity and some evidence of a finisher.

A university degree, given today's curriculum, tells me generally that they have discipline enough to stay at something for 4 years; not much more. It certainly does not guarantee they can think logically or spell. And many top students are such emotional children that they just piss everyone off.

 
At 7/15/2011 7:05 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

"The students at a UCLA are far better than 50 years ago."

WTF? Please, stop with the nonsense. The students 50 years ago were returning vets from WWII. They were older, more worldly and the product of a culture that placed hard work and personal sacrifice over self-esteem. You are not fit to carry their shoes.

 
At 7/15/2011 7:19 PM, Blogger Che is dead said...

"Well pretty soon employers will have NO use for college graduates & post graduates coming out of California regardless of their GPA ..."

What's surprising is that any California students make it to college at all: California Has Most Failing Schools in Nation, LA Weekly

Living in California, I can tell you that leftists, like "Benji", are destroying the most beautiful state in the nation.

 
At 7/15/2011 7:53 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Che-

Half the student body today at UCLA is Asian. These students study. It was easier to get into the UC system when I did, in the 1970s, than today. It was even easier in the 1950s.

 
At 7/15/2011 8:45 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Che-

Actually, I am more of a classic economist and libertarian than lefty--the GOP has become so perverted, they actually favor larger and more intrusive government, and crony capitalism. Plus they seem intent are soliciting the nit-wit vote.

Sad to see the decline of the GOP--the party of Eisenhower, or Dirksen, and now the party of Michelle Bachmann and Rush Limbaugh and any number of braying buffoons.

Eisenhower may be my favorite US president, just below Washington and LIncoln.

 
At 7/16/2011 12:43 AM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"Actually, I am more of a classic economist and libertarian than lefty--"

You know, that's just the craziest thing! Why do people keep mistaking you for a lefty?

 
At 7/16/2011 2:17 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"Actually, I am more of a classic economist and libertarian than lefty"...

Yeah pseudo benny and Obama is someone who knows what he's doing...

 
At 7/16/2011 2:22 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"What's surprising is that any California students make it to college at all"...

Well Che the forecast isn't pretty either: New state law requires LGBT history in textbooks

Public schools in California will be required to teach students about the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans starting Jan. 1 after Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a controversial bill to add the topic to the social sciences curriculum...

Sending a kid to public school should be considered child abuse...

 
At 7/16/2011 2:20 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Ron H-

Because GOP hacks think if someone exposes the GOP for the confederacy of grifter, dunces and strumpets that it has become, then that person must be a lefty.

 
At 7/16/2011 7:50 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"Because GOP hacks think if someone exposes the GOP for the confederacy of grifter, dunces and strumpets that it has become, then that person must be a lefty"...

Gee pseudo benny sounds like you're talking about Moonbeam's election committee...

 

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