Student achievements veritable despite grade inflation at colleges

By Emma Reilly
Opinion Editor

It is generally believed that stellar transcripts reflect the diligent efforts of studious, resolute, above-average students, but that is not necessarily the case.

As institutions of higher education across the nation succumb to grade inflation, the value of an outstanding college transcript is diminishing. Grade inflation is when increasing percentages of students obtain A-letter grades and competitive grade point averages — effectively increasing the attainability of academic excellence.

“If high marks are easier to get than they used to be, and that’s driving degree attainment, degrees awarded today are worth less…than they used to be,” Forbes’s Derek Newton said.

Grade inflation hurts students’ chances of success by making degrees easier to obtain than even a mere college acceptance. Students compete for a limited number of slots at prestigious schools like Harvard University, only to find that the competition stops there.

According to The Harvard Crimson’s Tommy Barone, the most common grade Harvard students earned in 2013 was an A, and that trend continued. Once in the job market, these students will face an unwelcome reality: their academic achievements won’t stand out nearly as much as they expect them to.

Discourse surrounding grade inflation and its ability to devalue undergraduate degrees is disheartening to truly driven students. More college students may be earning As, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t worked for those As.

“A grading system does not create a rigorous academic institution; academic rigor, really, begins with a collective intellectual spirit,” Barone said.

It is simply belittling and untrue to say that a higher percentage of students earning high grades at a given institution indicates that those students are less deserving of those grades. The value of students’ degrees may be shrinking, but their motivations aren’t.

According to Research Associate at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley Zachary Bleemer, students aren’t learning less as a result of grade inflation. This fact makes it clear that although it is a nuanced issue, grade inflation doesn’t result in decreased student performance.

Rather than beating down on college students’ achievements with the reminder that a college degree was supposedly more significant back in the day, critics of grade inflation should consider its possible benefits.

“Grade inflation may weaken some students’ incentive to study and could frustrate colleges’ ability to identify well-prepared applicants — but higher grades may also bolster some students’ confidence and encourage them into rigorous disciplines where they might succeed,” Bleemer said.

By more frequently recognizing students’ potential in the form of A grades, institutions may actually convince undergraduates to pursue areas of study they may otherwise find inaccessible.

Grade inflation may also “help more students stick with their preferred majors,” Bleemer said.

As these potential benefits indicate, grade inflation can bolster students’ confidence in their academic abilities and show them that the pursuit of a challenging field is worthwhile and achievable. Washington College students should keep in mind that — though academic standards fluctuate over time — the value of a college education cannot be discounted.

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