The research is in: getting an "A" in college is easier than ever because "grade inflation" is at an all-time high. Those studying these trends say that for the last few decades, we have been in the "student as consumer era" and that means as tuition gets more expensive, expectations for better grades rise as well, and colleges and universities are delivering.
Researchers Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke professor, and Furman University professor Chris Healy have been collecting data together since 2008. In late 2015, they had poured through grade data for millions of undergraduates across over 400 schools and have now shared what they found.
There has been two eras of grade inflation since the A-F grading scale has been used in America: Once during the Vietnam War and then in the 1980s through today. Prior to Vietnam, "C" was the most common grade on college campuses, their report states. "That was true for over fifty years," it adds.
The reason grades rose during Vietnam have a lot to do with helping male students stay in school by ensuring they get good grades and therefore, avoid the draft. Shortly after that war, average grades dropped slightly but then began a steady rise to the present day.
Now, 45% of college students are getting A's handed to them on silver platters. From the report:
The bottom line is that grading nearly everywhere is easy. After 50 plus years of grade inflation across the country, A is the most popular grade in most departments in most every college and university.
It is said that grade inflation is by far the worst in Ivy League schools. This isn't exactly correct. We discuss this issue at length in our 2010 and 2012 research papers. Grades are rising for all schools…
Of course rising grades means higher grade point averages and that's good for both students and colleges. The Washington Post explains:
The authors attribute today’s inflation to the consumerization of higher education. That is, students pay more in tuition, and expect more in return — better service, better facilities and better grades. Or at least a leg up in employment and graduate school admissions through stronger transcripts.
And indeed, some universities have explicitly lifted their grading curves (sometimes retroactively) to make graduates more competitive in the job market, leading to a sort of grade inflation arms race.
It is concerning, as The Post notes, that students are given the false impression that their talents "have improved so dramatically that they are deserving of higher grades" even though there are plenty of studies that show they are no more literate than previous generations. One could say we have reached the "Special Snowflakes Era."
And to make matters worse, this grade inflation has been happening in high schools across the nation, as well. Which is not surprising that teenagers are expecting something for nothing, especially since they have grown up receiving participation trophies just for showing up. With constant pats on the back, how could they expect anything less than this same treatment for the rest of their lives?