Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lake Wobegon at UM: B+ Is Now The Average Grade

Inside Higher Ed article: "Grade Inflation Seen Rising"

A professor who has crusaded against grade inflation by gathering and publicizing data has released his largest analysis to date -- and it suggests that grade inflation continues to be a broad problem across much of higher education. The figures may embarrass some colleges and renew a debate over whether students experience enough rigor.

The new analysis found that the average grade-point average at private colleges rose from 3.09 in 1991 to 3.30 in 2006 (see bottom chart above). At public colleges and universities, the increase was from 2.85 to 3.01 over the same time period. The study also examines -- and seeks to refute -- the idea that students are earning better grades simply because they are better prepared. The greatest increases in grades appear to be coming at flagship public universities in the South and at selective liberal arts colleges.

The study was done by Stuart Rojstaczer, a retired Duke University professor who created to document these trends. For this study, he significantly expanded the numbers of institutions examined, and the time frame.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 11, 2006 (subscription may be required):

Faculty members have not fulfilled the responsibilities associated with their proclaimed right to be the final judges of student performance. In shirking that duty, they have also neglected their broader obligations to society: Teachers weaken rather than bolster the commonweal when they fail to award meaningful grades. Grading laxness at all levels of American education has contributed directly or indirectly to a variety of problems, including declining scores on the SAT, decreases in the ability of American undergraduate and graduate students to understand prose, and poor training in mathematics and science, which puts American students behind their peers in many European and Asian countries.

~Michael Gordon, professor of management at Rutgers University

MP: Using annual GPA data back to 1951 for the University of Michigan (data here), the top chart above shows that the average GPA increased from 2.57 in 1951 (letter grade of B-/C+) to 3.27 in 2009 (about B+).


At 3/14/2009 11:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

3.27 is a B+ average, right?

At 3/15/2009 4:10 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

When I was in a "Terminal MA" (mixture of Ph.D and MA econ) at the University of Colorado, a B (3.0) was required to pass each class. However, so many students failed that a passing grade was lowered to B- (2.7).

I recall in one class the instructor was writing the most detailed equations I ever saw as fast as possible using all four chalkboards (excluding many intermediate steps and had to write smaller towards the end). One of the students (from the Middle East) stated "What is this? I thought this was economics." The instructor said "What is it you don't understand" The student said "I don't understand any of it." The instructor said "Come to my office after class for further instruction."

In another class, after another detailed equation, the instructor asked the class "What's the answer?" The answers from the class ranged from 17 to 10,000. The instructor said "You must be geniuses." The answer had to be only either a negative or positive sign.

When I hired a Ph.D math tutor, he asked me more questions about economic theory and terminology than I asked about completing equations, because he wanted some idea of what he was doing. So, it was slow going.

I can imagine it also takes more work to pass classes in other fields today compared to the past, e.g. in Microbiology or Biochemistry, and takes more time to finish a degree. That may help explain why there's a shortgage of skilled workers.

Moreover, I may add, I think grants and scholorships should be awarded based on fields of study where there are worker shortages rather than on race, sex, income, etc.

At 3/15/2009 5:12 AM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Anonyomous: Yes, thank you.

At 3/15/2009 9:32 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

It's possible, an increasingly larger proportion of the U.S. population is taking college classes and more students are taking easier fields, which may inflate grades.

At 3/15/2009 11:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The run up around 1970 is not surprising, but I wonder why the increase started in the mid-1990s. Any ideas?

At 3/15/2009 11:57 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"Moreover, I may add, I think grants and scholorships should be awarded based on fields of study where there are worker shortages rather than on race, sex, income, etc"...

Doesn't that depend on where the money for those grants and scholarships come from?

When I graduated from a Catholic college in '72 in Texas there was almost no government financed scholarships or grants other than the Pell grant unless one was in the armed forces....

Are their more taxpayer financed scholarships and grants today?

At 3/15/2009 12:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who teaches, I should, but I don't know how grade inflation is identified. In one of my classes, most students met the 15 student learning outcomes (SLOs) for the course, so they will receive an "A." My other class, however, had some problems--mostly they did not come to class--so far, three are failing and about half have a "C." I don’t have a problem giving these grades out to either class—they are simply what they earned.

If the criteria/outcomes are clearly established at the beginning of the semester, and the students meet the criteria, how is that grade inflation? I imagine some people think my grading system is too easy, but should I make the students solder a pipe blindfolded to make the clearly identified task that is established by a curriculum committee more difficult?

At 3/15/2009 8:16 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

1, money, whether from private or public sources, is often an incentive. I believe, there are good, roughly neutral, and bad government policies.

At 3/16/2009 9:29 AM, Blogger xcaverx said...

I bet one incentive for schools to inflate grades is to keep the student loan treadmill viable. When the loan scaffold starts collapsing, the whole higher ed structure will be imperiled.

At 3/16/2009 9:39 AM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

I would say this a condition of higher expectations...

It seems that when getting into Graduate school, or even graduating that a higher GPA is expected than it was just a few years previously. This in turn sets new standards for grading that dont even begin to make sense.

I remember several classes that I took in college would have the stipulation that if you earned a "D" you failed. Thus this made a C equivalent to what a D used to be and so forth.

As long as colleges feel the need to up their requirements incrementally each year (eg wanting a higher average GPA each year) then you will continue to see grade inflation as an unconscious manifestation of this.

At 3/16/2009 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Students drop courses if they find out they will get a "C." And college procedures encourage higher grades by enabling students to drop a course up until the final exam. I wonder if that is a policy change from the past. In addition, I am curious how much administrative policies like this contribute to grade inflation. As an instructor, I have no say over these policies.

At 3/18/2009 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An economics professor at Texas Tech said he had never failed a single student before but had, once, failed an entire class. The class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism."

All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A. After the first test the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. But, as the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided that since they could not make an A, they studied less. The second Test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around the average was an F.

The scores never increased as bickering, blame, name calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for anyone else. All failed to their great surprise and the professor told them that socialism would ultimately fail because the harder people try to succeed the greater their reward but when a government takes all the reward away; no one will try or succeed.


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