How to Fix College Grade Inflation

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from NCPA,

Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield stirred up controversy recently by criticizing the rampant grade inflation at his institution. But grade inflation isn’t just a problem at Harvard, says Sita Nataraj Slavov, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

A recent study of 200 colleges and universities found that more than 40 percent of all grades awarded were in the A range.

Some have argued that these inflated grades are necessary to help students get ahead in a competitive job market. While that might be true for an individual professor or university, at the national level grade inflation is a negative-sum game that imposes serious costs on society. Therefore, universities need to take steps to bring it under control.

[Two ideas to fix the problem:]

1. Professors face strong pressure to award inflated grades. The solution has to come at the level of the university. A promising approach was adopted by Princeton in 2004. The administration issued a guideline that, on average, no more than 35 percent of grades awarded in undergraduate courses should be in the A range. The guideline is not a rigid quota.

2. Economist Tim Harford has proposed an alternative solution: make grade inflation more like price inflation by uncapping the highest grade. In other words, grade inflation would be less of a problem if the entire grading scale could shift upwards over time, thereby decompressing the grades at the top. Under such a system, today’s B becomes tomorrow’s A+, tomorrow’s A+ becomes the day after tomorrow’s A+++, and so on.

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