NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Grade Inflation Comes to College Campuses

February 8, 2002

Grade inflation at the high-school level is a well-documented phenomenon. But it has now graduated to Ivy League colleges, education specialists report.

  • Fewer than 20 percent of all college students receive grades below B-minus, according to a study released this week by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • For example, Harvard University undergrads earning A's rose from 22 percent of students in 1966 to 46 percent in 1996 -- with 82 percent of seniors in 1996 graduating with honors.
  • At Princeton University in 1973, 31 percent of all grades were A's -- rising to 43 percent in 1997 -- and only 12 percent of all grades that year were below the B range.

What is propelling this unsettling trend, particularly at a time when about one-third of all college students arrive on campus so unprepared that they must take at least one remedial course?

Observers have several explanations -- including a few which are as troubling as the trend itself:

  • Grading leniency promotes the "self-esteem" of the less prepared -- including some minorities.
  • Schools use evaluation systems in which students grade professors, thereby providing an incentive for professors to go easy on their future evaluators.
  • There's an explosion in the number of adjunct professors who lack the time to evaluate each student more accurately.
  • Families paying more than $30,000 a year for their offspring's college education and expecting more than C's on report cards.

As a result, observers say, when all students receive high marks, graduate students and business recruiters will simply start ignoring grades.

Source: Editorial, "Ivy League Grade Inflation," USA Today, February 8, 2002.

For text


Browse more articles on Education Issues