NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Grade Inflation Rampant on College Campuses

August 29, 2014

Grade inflation is a serious problem in colleges and universities, contends Thomas Lindsay in a new report for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The numbers are stark:

  • In the first half of the 1960s, 15 percent of college grades were As.
  • Today, 43 percent of all college grades are As.
  • An A is the most common grade given in colleges across the country.
  • Seventy-three percent of all college grades given today are As or Bs.

Some schools have tried to bring transparency to student grading. As far back as 20 years ago, Dartmouth placed the median course grade and the class size on students' transcripts, next to the grade earned in each class, in response to the rise in the average GPA from 3.06 in 1968 to 3.23 in 1994. Even so, grades continued to rise at Dartmouth: by 1999, the number of As and A-minuses had reached 44 percent of all grades.

And Dartmouth is hardly an outlier. In 1969, over one quarter of all grades given at Duke University were Cs. Today, fewer than 10 percent of grades at Duke are Cs. And grade inflation is a problem at both public and private schools:

  • Private colleges saw the average GPA rise from 3.09 in 1991 to 3.30 in 2006.
  • At public schools, the average GPA increased from 2.85 to 3.01 between 1991 and 2006.
  • In 2006, highly selective private schools sported an average GPA of 3.43, while highly selective public schools had an average GPA of 3.22
  • Among public schools, major state universities in the South show the largest grade inflation from 1990 to 2006.

According to Christopher Healey, professor at Furman University, the subject with the toughest grading standards is math, in which only 29 percent of grades are As. That number is much lower than in music, where 67 percent of grades are As, or in education, where 71 percent of grades are As. As a result, Lindsay writes that grade inflation pulls students towards classes in the humanities and away from classes in science and math.

The Texas legislature has made efforts to address grade inflation in its state. While the act has not yet passed, the Honest Transcript bill would require all public colleges in the state to report the average grade given to the entire class next to each grade on a student's transcript.

Source: Thomas K. Lindsay, "Combating the 'Other' Inflation: Arresting the Cancer of College Grade Inflation," Texas Public Policy Foundation, August 2014. 


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