Forty-three percent of all college grades today are A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points from 1960.
The University of Notre Dame is adding its name to the growing list of schools — including Princeton University and Swarthmore College — combating grade inflation.
A college-wide conversation about how to assign a wider range of letter grades began in January, said Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters Dean John McGreevy.
“I’m a believer in differentiation,” McGreevy said. “We should be holding out A’s for the most exceptional students.”
In the spring semester of 2012, the college average class grade was 3.563 with a standard deviation of .253, according to a report by the university’s Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research (OSPIR). Forty-five percent of all classes issued an A or A- to 70% or more of their students.
In the fall of 1997, as far back as OSPIR’s online reports go, the college average class grade was 3.404 with a standard deviation of .281. Only 22% of all classes issued an A or A- to 70% or more of their students.
Some explanations for the high marks include a smarter student body, smaller classes and more personalized student-teacher relationships and professors’ concerns about poor teacher evaluations.
“There’s a concern that grades have been generally high over the last decade,” McGreevy said. “We don’t want to disadvantage our students in the job market but we do want to challenge them in the classroom.”
Grade inflation is not exclusive to Notre Dame, as Politifact found in January that 43% of all college grades today are A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points from 1960.
Princeton University adopted a policy in 2004 recommending no more than 35% of students in a course earn an A grade. By 2008-2009, 39.7% of all grades issued were A-range, a huge difference from the peak 49.7% in 2002-2003.
Notre Dame’s solution may be different, McGreevy said. But students received notice at the start of the semester that professors would grade more harshly to comply with McGreevy’s request to return to an average that falls between 3.0 and 3.5.
Student body vice presidential candidate Nancy Joyce, a junior at Notre Dame, said she hopes to make students a part of the college’s conversations. It’s a component of her platform, but she said she will pursue it regardless of Wednesday’s election results.
“A student’s GPA should accurately reflect the work they’ve done at Notre Dame,” Joyce, 20, said. “I don’t think lower GPAs will hurt our grad school prospects because we have the university’s strong brand backing our education.”
Many students echoed Joyce’s comments about how grade deflation might affect resumes. Moreover, senior Lauren Palomino said she does not think she has earned every A she has received.
“There’s a vast difference in the quality of work I’ve done and still earned A’s for,” Palomino, 21, said. “Amazing work gets an A but in my experience, so does OK work.”
Palomino said she thinks the university needs to raise the bar of excellence and provide more challenging course material. Senior Edward Jacobson agreed, but added that some courses are inherently going to issue more A’s.
“How do you make French more difficult?” Jacobson, 21, asked. “Theoretically shouldn’t everyone be able to achieve an A-level grade by mastering the course material?”
Jacobson has a 3.96 GPA. He said he does not feel challenged at the university, but attributed that to the campus culture.
“Professors are afraid of really challenging people,” Jacobson said. “Academics aren’t the kind of students we attract. We bring in football, booze and a little liberal arts. We want people to enjoy their football weekend and at the end of the day, still get into law school.”
Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters will announce recommendations at the end of the semester.
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