B is the new C

Grades are major sources of stress as well as fulfillment. We spend a lot of time and energy focusing on our grades.

Grades are major sources of stress as well as fulfillment. We spend a lot of time and energy focusing on our grades. We want to be validated for our hard work by seeing those A’s and B’s, but, according to some, those marks are probably watered down and our ability to achieve them is probably exaggerated.

More American college students than ever are receiving A’s and B’s which are traditionally thought of as above-average grades, but this does not mean that we are all above average intelligence. According to the Inside Higher Ed Web site, the mean GPA at American colleges in the 1950s was 2.52, and by 2006–07 it was 3.11. This data shows that grading in colleges is easier than it was in the past, and B is in fact the new C.

Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University professor, has been studying and compiling grade inflation data since 2003 and has started the Web site www.gradeinflation.com to try and institute some kind of transparency in higher education grading. According to his study, the average grade awarded to fall term undergraduate students at Portland State in 1991 was 2.94, and by 2007 that average had risen to 3.10, so following national trends, B is the new average right here too.

Why does this matter? Making college easier may seem like a good answer to improve overall quality of life by producing more graduates, but really it just makes college degrees less valuable. The easier it is to get a bachelor’s degree, the more employers will seek out candidates with graduate degrees, in effect making master’s degrees the new bachelor’s degrees. If grade inflation continues, bachelor’s degrees may be well on their way to being the new high school diploma.

This concept is especially evident in engineering and science programs whose grades have not inflated as much as more liberal studies. According to Rojstaczer, this causes students to be less likely to pursue degrees in engineering and science, which translates into foreign students having the edge not only in American colleges but globally as well. This will no doubt further America lagging behind in the global race for new technology. America’s complacency is making us lose our edge, and this will have consequences for all of us.

The evaluations, which are standard at Portland State, have been shown to influence the harshness of grading by professors. Professors who grade easier get better evaluations. Better evaluations mean more job security, especially for adjunct professors who have minimal control of their teaching assignments.

With A’s and B’s being so easy to receive, students are losing out on a thorough and challenging education that would better prepare them for careers or graduate school. College graduates are soon to be a dime a dozen, and with grade inflation they are not even necessarily that smart or hardworking. For every student who actually excels, there could be a student who just slides by, both ending up with the same degree, and maybe even the same GPA. This hardly seems fair and takes value away from the education of the student who actually excels.

Another reason commonly cited for grade inflation is that now more than ever colleges are businesses. They want to show a high average GPA to entice students to attend and get those tuition checks. It is competitive because everyone is going to college now and they have a lot of choices. Potential students can check on reputations of several colleges and choose the one with the best average GPA.

Working your butt off for that A is almost not necessary. It should be challenging to get an A, and not everyone is, or should be, smart enough. Working hard is great, but it should not guarantee an A. Excelling academically should be the result of intelligence combined with hard work, not a right of attending college and simply trying.