Overall GPA increases .27 in 13 years

Greg Doyle

Over the last decade, researchers have scrutinized the grading trends of various universities across the nation to determine which are subject to grade inflation.

“Inflation means increase without substantive reasons — increases unrelated to real academic achievement,” said John Johannes, vice president of Academic Affairs. “It is not clear that [Villanova is] suffering from that, although my sense is that there is some slight inflation at work and has been for some time.”

While no college encourages grade inflation, most GPA trends in the last 10 years have had a positive slope.

According to a 2006 New York Times article, “Can Tough Grades Be Fair Grades,” Samuel G. Freedman noted that in 2001, Harvard University reported 91 percent of its students graduating with honors and half of all grades were either an A or A-.

The causes of grade inflation vary; some are prompted by students while others are incited by professors.

High school graduates enter college with higher GPAs, SAT scores and class ranks than did students a generation ago.

According to a 2007 article from The Dartmouth, “Inflation to Make the Grade,” Gahl Rinat believes these high achievers feel a sense of entitlement to get good grades. As such, universities have seen a rise in “grade-grubbers” who feel no shame in begging professors to raise their final grades.

And although no school promotes grade inflation, many allow the unfair grading to occur in order to make their institutions appear more appealing to prospective students and to make their students more appealing to prospective employers and graduate schools.

Rinat also cites professors as a source of grade inflation, as they believe they are more likely to be evaluated positively at the conclusion of a semester if they give the students high marks.

Johannes disagrees with this sentiment, arguing the quality of a teacher is not contingent upon the grades he or she distributes.

“As the argument goes, a good instructor inspires his or her students to excel; when they excel, they earn good grades,” Johannes said. “Because they are inspired and have learned a lot, they give high evaluation scores to their instructor.  What is the cause and what is the effect: excellent teaching and students learning; high grades and high student evaluations?”

Grade inflation has been detected among the most elite private schools and the bottom-tier public schools, so those combating grade inflation doubt the rising national GPA is a result of a smarter, more qualified student body.

According to gradeinflation.com, the overall GPA for the 2006-’07 school year was a 3.11, compared to 2.99 10 years ago.

As of fall 2007, the average grade University-wide was 3.21; in arts 3.22; in sciences 3.34; in business, 3.26; in engineering, 3.08; and in nursing 3.26, according to Johannes.

Although Villanova is above the national average, which includes both public and private universities, the overall GPA for private universities is a 3.30, according to gradeinflation.com.

Still, Villanova’s cumulative GPA for all four colleges has risen over the years. In 1994, the university-wide GPA was 2.94, 0.27 points lower than the ’06-’07 average.

Johannes does not believe this overall rise is a result of grade inflation, though.

The University takes preventative measures to detect any suspicious hiking of grades.

“The Registrar, upon request, produces studies of grades and can do so by college,” Johannes said. “The deans and I periodically request reports and monitor the trends.” 

Skeptics of grade inflation believe concern for the issue is inflated itself.

In a 2009 article for insidehighered.com, “Grade Inflation Seen Rising,” Clifford Adelman, a senior analyst at the Institute for Higher Education Policy and a leading education researcher, argues that the real issue at hand is the devaluation of grades.

According to Adelman, new factors are included in a student’s overall grade for a class, such has attendance and participation.

However, these factors do not necessarily measure how much a student actually learned.

“My point is not that there is no grade inflation, rather that inflation in the judgment of human performance is something that cannot be proved,” Adelman said. “A significant proportion of grades that are not really grades.”

Boston University has allegedly practiced a reverse system, considered to be grade deflation.

To ensure the academic rigor and overall value of a BU education is always respected, many believe the University advises professors to grade on a strict curve, allowing only the very highest percentage to earn an above average grade.

According to a 2006 article from BU Today, “Grade Deflation or Not,” Chris Berdik notes that there is no academic policy that mandates its professors to grade on any particular curve.

Still, BU students often believe their marks are much lower than expected. The article profiles several transfer students whose GPAs were over one point lower than their GPAs at their previous schools, despite working harder.

Of the many measures Villanova takes to avoid grade inflation, grade deflation is not one of them, according to Johannes.

“I personally do not like the idea,” Johannes said. “Classes vary greatly in students’ interest levels, capabilities and performance.

Student achievement should be graded on the basis of individual performance, not on some arbitrary quotas of A grades.”

Cornell and Dartmouth post the individual grades as well as the class average on a student’s transcript.

This makes it possible to determine how substantial or unsubstantial each grade is.

Villanova trusts its professors’ judgment regarding students’ grades and believe the distribution of grades is a faculty function, according to Johannes.

Still, the University has taken strides to ensure grade inflation never infringes upon a professor’s grade book.

In January 2006, Villanova instituted the Academic Policy Committee of the University Senate to examine the University’s grading system.

“The Council of Deans, believing that grading lies within the purview of the faculty, recommended that the APC create a subcommittee to explore what other schools are doing and to develop a proposal and make recommendations on methods of accountability,” Johannes said. “A series of other important issues — CATS, exam scheduling, reading days, faculty handbook, for example — have intruded and taken up the APC’s attention, causing it to set aside the grades issue, at least temporarily.”