Take a look at almost any beginning-of-the-term syllabus a professor gives to the class, and you will see a breakdown of what each of the letter grades mean. A “C” is average work, a “B” reflects above average work, and an “A” is reserved for those who go above and beyond expectations. By no means should it be very easy to get an “A” in a class.
But that is not the case.
“Grade inflation seems to be rampant at universities these days, and it’s a disservice to the students,” communication studies professor Dr. Edward Lordan said. “By definition, everyone can’t be above average.”
Grade inflation means that students are getting better grades than they should. Sometimes this comes in the form of a curve from the professor, sometimes it is an almost unheard of amount of extra credit, and sometimes it is just simply a grade higher than what the student really deserves.
The reason for grade inflation is simple. Students do not accept grades for what they are meant to be anymore. When a good student gets a “B,” he or she feels slighted. A “C” to some students is almost like failing, when in reality it means they have done average work.
Students complain about being graded harshly and reflect that on their teacher evaluations. For some professors, this can be troublesome.
“You most likely will find [grade inflation] among faculty who are not tenured, who are perhaps trying to maximize scores on student evaluations to make it more likely they will get tenured, ” Dr. Phil Thompsen, a professor of communication studies, said. “Especially among professors that otherwise would not get good evaluations.”
In addition to pressure from students, professors also might be dealing with pressure from outside sources to give grades that are undeserved. In some schools, being academically eligible for athletics is more important to coaches than having students truly succeed in the classroom.
“I recall when I was teaching at a different school, getting a feeling that I was getting pressured by a coach. The coach was not happy I didn’t give a passing grade to one of his players, and I felt some sort of pressure that he wanted me to make some kind of accommodation, even though the student basically did not do the work,” Thompsen said.
The whole concept of grade inflation is wildly detrimental to students and their educations. If a student can do average or slightly above average work and receive the highest grade possible, why should students try to go above and beyond? In classes where grade inflation is prevalent, students may get the grade they want on paper but will find themselves in a world of trouble later on.
“Students who are constantly told how great they are -when they are not-are in for a rude awakening when they get out in the working world,” Lordan said. “Since part of our job is to prepare you for the working world, every time we inflate your grade, we are not doing our job. I understand why students want good grades – it make sense professionally and it makes sense in terms of self-satisfaction, but at this stage in an undergraduate’s career, he or she needs to be told where to improve, not just that they are doing a super job.”
In addition to affecting those students who take advantage of the grade inflation, it hurts the true above-and-beyond, hard-working students. A student might work hard and do exceptional work, and have a 3.8 GPA to show for it on a resume. But a student who gets “A” scores who did not work as hard might have a similar GPA. It is extremely unfair to the better student, because their hard work does not set them apart in terms of their grades.
“It is important for students to have a grade that fairly reflects the quality of their work and when there is a dilution of that quality in the best grades, such as giving it to students who are marginally entitled, I think it does affect the best students and cheapens the effect for them,” Thompsen said.
In addition, why should a person work extra hard when he or she could do decent work and get the highest marks? Grade inflation does not push those exceptional students to perform to their potential.
“If one student works really, really hard, participates in class, tests well, submits high-quality assignments, etc., and then receives a grade that is only half a grade higher than the average for the class, where is the incentive?” Lordan said.
There is not any, and that poses a huge problem. However, some things can be done to prevent grade inflation. One idea may be to have a balanced number of objective and subjective grades in the class, and offer no extra credit. Although subjective assignments like research papers or projects are beneficial, they can be a problem when it comes to grade inflation.
“Where you find a tendency for grade inflation is where you find subjective grading points such as grading an essay or creative product that one could reasonably disagree as to its quality,” Thompsen said. “Where there are objective questions with clear and unambiguous answers, its harder to have grade inflation.”
By combining an even number of subjective and objective grade points, it limits the chance for a student to argue a grade, because it is extremely hard to argue an answer with a right and wrong. This will help weed out those who do not work as hard and earn “A” marks. A true “A” student will go above and beyond on both objective and subjective assignments. A student doing the bare minimum will have more trouble scoring highly on objective assignments, and thus they would get a more deserving grade.
Nevertheless, simply having more grades that are objective is not the perfect answer. They are found more often in large lectures than small classes, and as students move into upper level classes, there has to be more subjective assignments and projects to gain the necessary experience.
In all honesty, the perfect solution would be for students to not want to have their grades inflated. Students should understand that an “A” compared to a “B” is not as important as spending the time learning the material, doing the best you can and preparing correctly to enter the work force. They should want the challenge of fighting to earn an “A” through hard work and not settle for a high grade because a professor feels pressure to award it. The choice is ultimately the students’. When the students stop complaining over a “B” and haggling for extra credit and actually buckle down and work hard, grade inflation will stop.
“A dean once told me that ultimately students are responsible for the integrity of their education,” Thompsen said. “When students are trying to gain the system and faculty are, perhaps sometimes inadvertently, going along with that, it makes the whole enterprise worth less and students ultimately recognize that. If [students] want
to grow intellectually and want to learn, they have to be a part of the process and own the integrity of their product, not just rely on taking shortcuts and trying to minimize their work.”
Kenny Ayres is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.