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What to make of grade inflation at Brandeis

Published: November 1, 2013
Section: Opinions


The amount of grade inflation in the past decade has risen tremendously, especially in liberal arts schools. According to a database constructed by Stuart Rojstaczer at GradeInflation.com, the average GPA in colleges across the country has risen from a 2.93 to a 3.11, and in private universities from a 3.03 to a 3.3. The percentage of As that professors award has risen from 15 percent in 1940 to above 40 percent in 2008.

Brandeis professors are quite reluctant to give out low grades. Is this a problem with Brandeis, or just the way the education system has changed over the years?

Inflating grades does not do anyone any favors when students in graduate school realize that they are not ready to compete with the others. Grade inflation is not uniform across the board, so even though two students may have a 4.0, these grades mean drastically different things.

While Brandeis is one of the top schools in the nation, different schools have different grading rubrics. A more selective school does not necessarily signify lower grade inflations. In fact, many Ivy League schools are notorious for pumping up student grades. Since there is no national standard, it’s very hard to make comparisons between a good student and a mediocre student. The truth is that there are a lot of students with poor grades who know how to think, write, study and argue. Grades are not the best way to differentiate among applicants to graduate school and jobs, anyway. Often, these candidates must distinguish themselves through extracurricular leadership experience and academic pursuit or passion.

By forgetting about numbers and theories and instead just observing students here at Brandeis, grade inflation does not seem to be making too much of an impact. Though it slightly depends on the class, there’s no reason why all students can’t get As if they deserve them. Humanities students can all earn As on an essay because the professor compares the performance to the expected standard of proficiency measured by the assignment’s criteria. If they all fulfill those criteria, then they deserve As. While science classes often have a curve, if students know the material, they will earn good grades regardless.

From what I see, Brandeis students try very hard. My classes are full of students asking questions, participating in discussions and studying in the library at all hours of the day and night, especially during finals week. While many may put off assignments until the last minute, students and adults everywhere do the exact same thing.

Students who care about getting good grades put in the effort, and those who do not will suffer the consequences. Although many claim that grade inflation causes students to study less because they feel they do not have to try hard to get an A, I do not think that students at Brandeis can do so little work that they coast without studying at all. I do not know anyone who does not spend their days and evenings reading, writing, filling out lab reports or working on some other assignment.

The system is set up so that students can get by on less effort, but grades are not the whole picture. High-achieving students are motivated not by grades alone but by intellectual pursuit and passion for the subject. While grades are necessary to fill the gap where passion will not inspire students to do well on their own, passion is still an important force in and of itself. Most classes boast professor office hours, optional readings and class discussions which strongly encourage or require participation. If students want to actually learn the subject, then they will put in the effort to do so. Grade inflation is part of the system; it just means students have to put in the extra effort if they want to go far.

There will always be plenty of students who coast by on the minimum amount of effort and receive a mediocre grade, but inflation does not make a good student a better student. There is no trick—it’s based on self-motivation. Even if it is easier to get a higher grade, professors are not stupid; they know a smart student when they see one, and that student will go as far as many Brandeis students do. Students have passion for their chosen endeavors, and if that passion holds true, it will translate to success because the effort they put forth will prove worthwhile, regardless of grades.