Researcher uncovers possible grade point inflation in CLA

by Paul Sand

Recent research of grade point averages by a Duke University professor shows evidence of apparent grade inflation in the University’s College of Liberal Arts.

Stuart Rojstaczer, professor of geology, environment and engineering at Duke, researched 29 institutions – private and public – using data 12 years or older. Rojstaczer’s data suggests GPAs have increased by 0.6 from 1967 to 2001.

In CLA, GPAs jumped from 2.33 in 1963 to 2.95 in 1997, the data suggests.

Rojstaczer said much of the data shows a significant jump in GPAs in the mid-1980s. He said the increase can be attributed to students’ increased use of personal computers. He said computers might have made students’ work more visually appealing, but the content’s quality did not increase.

Rojstaczer also said because colleges and universities are vying for students – and their money – there is a willingness to treat students more like customers.

“When you get into that consumer mentality, the university is giving (students) an inflated sense of worth and higher grades,” he said.

University Provost Christine Maziar said administrators have been concerned with grade inflation and discussed it in the University Senate.

“The University of Minnesota has been keeping its eye on this issue,” she said. “This has, in fact, been a concern at the University for at least two decades now.”

The University’s competitive nature – more applicants than available spots – has led to a higher-achieving student population, Maziar said.

Understanding the policy changes an institution implements when researching GPA data is important, Maziar said.

For example, if an institution relaxes its policy on dropping classes during the term, it could increase the class’ GPA because students with lower grades would have exited the class, she said.

Vice Provost Craig Swan said the University has taken significant steps to address grade inflation. In 1996-97, the University Senate formed a subcommittee on grading to investigate grade inflation, he said.

The committee’s report said grade inflation at the University had not “reached the level where grading practices have devalued student effort.”

Swan said the University has implemented all of the report’s recommendations. These included making GPA data more available and asking colleges and departments to discuss what the uniform grading policy means for their particular unit, he said.

Rojstaczer said while some institutions have taken strides to address GPA problems, nationwide change is the only way to help students.

“I don’t think an individual institution can do anything because it’s a national phenomenon,” he said. “I really think that is the only way you can work at this problem.”

Paul Sand covers Board of Regents and administration. He welcomes comments at [email protected]