Grade Deflation Sweet Sixteen

by Vault Education Editors | April 01, 2010

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A little less than a month ago, when March Madness was just getting into swing and the top 64 teams were running their grapevines and practicing their lay-ups more feverishly than ever, we here at Vault.com were in a frenzy of our own: Everyone wanted to have the perfect bracket. There were heated arguments, distraught Googlings and side bets to boot. And as a new addition to the editorial team, I especially wanted to prove myself by engineering the most impeccable bracket imaginable.

It was in this spirit that Stuart Rojstaczer, creator of GradeInflation.com, seeded his personal favorites for "GradeInflation.com's Sweet Sixteen of Tough Graders." Instead of rating schools based on their basketball prowess, Rojstaczer profiled the schools he believes "defy the trend of the easy A." So, without further ado, the Sweet 16 of grade deflators.

Gradeinflation.com's Sweet 16

The dominance of schools that specialize in the sciences is obvious, though not particularly shocking. Three of the four regions have at least one: Rensselaer Polytechnic and MIT in the East, Southern Polytechnic State in the Georgia, and Harvey Mudd College in California. Reed College's No. 1 spot in the West also comes as no surprise. One of the most academically rigorous undergraduate programs in the country, Reed boasts that "a higher percentage of Reed graduates go on to earn PhDs across fields than do graduates of all but three other U.S. colleges and universities." No wonder Reed professors are tight-fisted with their A's.

Perhaps more intriguing are the liberal arts schools, like Roanoke College and Hampden-Sydney College. "Liberal arts colleges tend to be easy-A heaven," Rojstaczer notes, and these schools buck that trend with some of the lowest average GPAs in the South.

And then we have Princeton University, which holds the No. 2 spot in the East. Princeton only began making a concerted effort to curtail grade inflation in 2004. Yet as a member of the Ivy League, Princeton students find themselves competing against peers from other top schools for whom A's are as prevalent as cheap beer and clueless freshmen. For instance, approximately two-thirds of all letter grades given at Brown University were A's as of March 2009. In 2008, Princeton's average GPA was a 3.28, compared to a 3.51 at Yale in 2008 and a 3.45 at Harvard in 2005.

Some students from hard-grading schools may worry about their postgraduate prospects, from the perfect first job to graduate school. But Rojstaczer argues that the drawbacks of grade inflation far outweigh the benefits. He notes that the absence of "real grades" makes it difficult to motivate most students, and that those students who do achieve superior work aren't distinguished from their peers.

My March Madness bracket didn't fare so well (I picked winners based on which mascot would win in a fight, and none of my teams even made the Final Four), but I have faith in Rojstaczer's judgment. And as a recent Princeton grad, I would at least feel vindicated if Princeton ended up, as Rojstaczer predicts, going "all the way" this year.

--Posted by Madison Priest

Filed Under: Education

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