Vox recently covered the results of Wellesley College’s crack down on grade inflation. It turns out that when colleges suppress grade inflation, some interesting things happen.
Why work to stem grade inflation? Grade inflation has changed the way both parents and students perceive college success. Once a less common grade, the A is the most common grade now given at colleges and universities–it’s the mode of all grades, and represents 40+% of all grades given. The C in particular has experienced a significant drop. Cs were once 35% of all grades, but now represent about 15% of assigned grades.
VOX listed 5 effects of Wellesley College’s efforts. First of all, grade inflation decreased. Secondly, because the departments dealing with grade inflation were largely in arts and humanities, more individuals pursued economics and sciences. Since students in the sciences have notoriously lower average GPAs than other departments, this is a sensical output. In addition, students were less satisfied with their professors, minorities were disproportionately affected by grade changes and students were concerned about job prospects.
Here at College Parents of America wondered–what would parents think of efforts to curb grade inflation? After all, grades can affect job prospects and even the likelihood of just completing college. And, since parents often have GPA expectations for their students, how would a parent conceive of an effort to hand out fewer As? It’s a very individual question, but one that we considered carefully.
It’s likely that efforts to roll back grade inflation will continue and spread through other institutions. As this happens, it could be that a B again becomes the most common grade (as it was from 1964 until about 1996). If this is the case, parents’ expectations must change with their students’ selected college with regard to expected GPA. Indeed, a 3.0 in the humanities at one school may be more like a 3.5 at another. A lower-than-hoped-for GPA may be partially the result of changing institutional standards than student performance outright.
Given that a first-year GPA around 3.25 correlates with higher persistence in college than the average first-year GPA of around 3.04, this is a trend that parents should watch closely. Dipping below a first-year 3.04 average can be an indicator that a student is less likely to complete their college degree. However, if your student attends a school tacking grade deflation, it is extra important to support your student, instead of scolding them for a slightly less than ideal GPA.
In such situations, all that can be controlled is the quality of the students’ effort, how students approach their work, and the expectations of results that parents put upon them. Parents must understand that sometimes the results at one school don’t reflect the achievement in the same way as they might some place else. Emphasize good study habits and get tutoring, if necessary, but remember that a B+ at one school may be an A or A- elsewhere.