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Study Finds Widespread Grade Inflation in Higher Education is Driving High Graduation Rates

Study Finds Widespread Grade Inflation in Higher Education is Driving High Graduation Rates

“grade point averages and graduation rates have risen significantly compared to other measures of learning, such as test scores”

This is easy to believe, sadly. Maybe if higher ed focused on real scholarship more and social justice activism less, we wouldn’t be in this position.

Campus Reform reports:

Study finds rampant grade inflation is driving up graduation rates

A new study by researchers from Brigham Young University, the University of Illinois, and Stanford University found widespread grade inflation in higher education leading to higher graduation rates. Researchers found that, according to four data sources that date back as far as 1988, grade point averages and graduation rates have risen significantly compared to other measures of learning, such as test scores.

Researchers examined data from longitudinal studies of students who were in eighth grade in 1988 and students who were in tenth grade in 2002. They found, “11 percent more first-year college students have a GPA above a 2.0 in the 2002 sample compared to the 1988 sample.” The researchers accounted for other possible factors that may have influenced the increase in average GPA, such as parents’ level of income and education, race, gender, and math scores, but found “none…change the effect of GPA substantively.”

The researchers also examined data from nine large public universities between 1990 and 2000. They found that “entering one year later is associated with an increase of 0.019 in first-year GPA.” Even when controlling for demographic factors and other attributes that may be related to a person’s academic standing, such as which courses they took and their SAT score, researchers found that factors other than grade inflation only accounted for roughly a quarter of the increase in grades.

The study also examined data from a public liberal arts university, which the authors do not name. This college was chosen because, from 2001 to 2012, it “required the same core courses and nearly identical end-of-course exams.” Researchers found that, over time, exam scores stayed around the same, but grades rose, and so did the school’s graduation rate.


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Antifundamentalist | November 20, 2021 at 2:11 pm

Blame the Federal Student Loan Program. It’s free money for colleges, so of course they will take on students who can’t actually do the work. And of course many public school districts often don;t “allow” teachers to fail students even when the students cannot (or refuse to) meet the standards, so it’s not like they have a wide pool to choose from.

I have taught at a community college for 20 years. My students are less smart every year as well as less inclined to do any work or even come to class.

    Idonttweet in reply to hrhdhd. | November 20, 2021 at 6:37 pm

    Not trying to be a nitpicker, but are they truly “less smart” or just less academically prepared to perform at the level expected?

      healthguyfsu in reply to Idonttweet. | November 21, 2021 at 1:04 pm

      both….less prepared and unwilling to consider or choose to be aware of the fact that this is the case.

      Fair enough. Let’s call them less academically prepared and less aware that they aren’t prepared.

      artichoke in reply to Idonttweet. | November 21, 2021 at 11:23 pm

      How did they arrive at the same age, with the same number of years of prior schooling, now less academically prepared bla bla bla? Might it be related to having learned less because of lower aptitude for learning?

The Friendly Grizzly | November 20, 2021 at 6:33 pm

It isn’t just the grade inflation period it is the overwhelming growth of non sense majors.

There are nonsense majors (Yoga studies) but the schools are also lowering standards because the Feds pretty much guarantee the schools will get paid for students in seats regardless of their academic preparation or performance.

I can 100% vouch for this. We are all guilty of it in higher ed, but it is a pressure from higher admin to do so to meet meaningless rankings metrics that are poorly designed.

The whole system needs to be reformed. Perhaps the most sad part of all in this is the students who think they are doing so well when in fact, they are just getting pushed across the goalline.

    I had a conversation with a student (and this was several years ago) who wanted to know if he would get an A in my class. We went over his grades (mostly Cs and Ds with an occasional B), and I said, “That’s the answer.” He said, “So I’ll get an A?”

Sounds like high-grade Dodo (“All have won and all must have prizes”).

So, what is the value of a dodo prize? Is it worth more or less than a participation trophy? Does it depend on the identity of the dodos who awarded it?

This data is all pre-COVID. During COVID, a number of colleges dropped the standardized test entrance requirement. Pre=COVID the SAT as a strong predictor of freshman year, GPA. I wonder about today.