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Grade inflation leaves college graduates increasingly unprepared for adulthood

<rleton and other top institutions attract very high-achieving students who are used to being in the top of their class. In Carleton’s class of 2022, for example, 77% of students graduated in the top 10% of their class and 95% in the top quartile.

While at Carleton, therefore, many students experience lower grade achievement for the first time in their lives.

Nevertheless, grade inflation across many top-tier institutions has led many students to expect all As.

The Ivy Leagues are the universities most often accused of rampant grade inflation.

In a 2018 analysis by RippleMatch, Brown University was found to have the highest average GPA of 3.73, followed by Stanford, Harvard, and Columbia.

At Brown, there are only As, Bs, and Cs without any pluses or minuses and no grades of D or failing grades are recorded on transcripts, leading to such high grade inflation.  

However, the problem is also more wide-spread across all institutions and not just the Ivy Leagues as average college grades have been steadily increasing nationwide.

According to a 2019 Forbes article, in the early 1960s only 15% of grades awarded in colleges nationwide were As.

Today, however, 45% of grades awarded nationally are As, and 75% are As and Bs. 

Such rampant grade inflation reflects our current society’s inability to deal with failure and setback.

High-achieving students who have never received below an A- or B+ on their high school transcript are unprepared to change their expectations upon entering college.

Students work tirelessly in order to achieve the best grades possible, often staying up late, skipping class to finish assignments or requesting extensions in order to keep up their GPA.

However, college students need to learn to cope with grades that are aren’t As.

Receiving a lower grade on an assignment teaches students what they need to improve and how to work on their weaknesses.

Learning how to recover from a C in a course is a valuable life lesson on perseverance in the face of disappointment.

Such skills are necessary in order to survive the challenges of the outside of college; however, students face increasingly fewer opportunities to overcome failure and therefore are increasingly less prepared to enter the workforce.  

Grade inflation also becomes a problem for employers seeking talented applicants for job positions.

Employers find that college transcripts are becoming less meaningful as it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between students who all have excellent grades. 

Some institutions such as Wellesley College and Princeton have attempted to combat grade inflation by encouraging departments to award fewer As.

However, after its initial decrease, Wellesley’s GPA has been rising, and Princeton abandoned its efforts due to increased stress on students.

Until society returns to the understanding that failure is not a sign of weakness but a learning opportunity, grade inflation will persist in higher education and college students will graduate increasingly unprepared for the struggles of adulthood.

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    Jeff HarbaughNov 29, 2021 at 6:27 pm

    My first year in business school, I talked my way into an intermediate accounting course based on accounting classes I took at American University in DC while working for the Congressional Research Service. Anthony Curly, a visiting professor from Penn State, taught the class. There was the time he sent us home to work in our groups and asked us to figure out how Northwest Airlines had accounted for their bond interest. At the next class a couple of days later he asked, “Who knows how they did it?” Nobody raised their hand. He paused and said, “Yeah, I couldn’t figure it out either.”

    I must have been in his office two or three times a week. It was a pass/fail class and I barely passed, but you’d be amazed how much accounting I know even though I’m not a CPA. And I think I still remember how to account for bond interest. Okay, not the most helpful think in the world to know.

    If an A (which is suppose to mean outstanding I think) is so easy to get, what do you think you’re learning?

    Jeff Harbaugh ’72