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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Grade Inflation at Carleton: Myth or Verity?

<reates a culture of mediocrity, its detractors complain.  It makes grades essentially meaningless, they add. It kills innovation. Grade inflation occurs at almost all colleges in the United States, but how bad is it at Carleton?

 “Well, we know it exists [at Carleton]; grades have risen…over the last thirty years,” said Associate Dean of the College George Shuffelton. Short of this fact, the meaning and definition of grade inflation becomes quite murky.

While grades have generally risen since the 1980s, in the last five years, the average GPA of all Carleton students has remained relatively consistent, hovering around a 3.45.  The percentage A’s, A-‘s, B+’s and so on has also remained almost exactly the same for the last five years.

“Grade reporting is extremely complicated, and the results will change according to the timeframe and the unit of analysis,” said Jim Fergerson, Director of Institutional Research and Assessment, “Grades by courses? Which terms are included? Currently enrolled students only? “

Inflation, when it exists, means that grades lose their signaling power, both to future employers and to students.

As Shuffelton explained“If we get to the point where I can either give [students] an A or an A-, it’s a real limitation to the kind of feedback professors can give.”

It also harms the campus culture.  If marquis marks seem within a student’s reach, learning for learning’s sake takes a back seat.

“If grade inflation were to exist, then there would be more focus on grades and that’s not where we want to be headed.  We want to focus on what we are actually learning, not what grades we are getting,“ said Bettina Wiesenthal ’14.

So how to stop it? One possible check to grade inflation involves informing faculty about how their grades compare to other faculty members. This reduces incentives for professors to grade too kindly, prompting colleagues to follow them in a kind of generosity arms race.

“Every two to three years, all faculty get a report showing their grades over time relative to their department and Carleton,” said Fergerson athough he added that he “can’t and won’t claim that our reports are a contributing factor to the leveling.”

Students have mixed reactions to grade inflation.

“I think it varies across departments but there’s never been an instance where I felt like it was easy to get an A; I think I will have (to work hard) to do it,” said Na’quelle Davis ’15.

Some think that, relative to its peers, Carleton is probably guilty of grade deflation.

“I left Carleton College and entered Dartmouth College with low confidence because of my GPA …To my surprise, I performed as well as or better than my peers in the program who had 3.8’s-4.0’s  at [similar liberal arts colleges],” said Alexander Chin ‘14.

Others simply think that it’s more complicated than “grade inflation.”

“To me it seems like a lot of the times in some humanities courses , it doesn’t feel so much as grade inflation as grade stagnation,” said Jacob McNaughton ’14, “It’s difficult to do very well to get an A in the course but it’s also difficult…to get a C- or a D.”

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