College Guide


June 01, 2011 2:37 PM Cornell vs. Grade Inflation

By Daniel Luzer

Since 1998 Cornell University has publically revealed to its students what the median grades are for all courses. On May 11 the school’s Faculty Senate voted to make that information secret.

According to an article by Susan Kelley in the Cornell Chronicle:

The Faculty Senate voted May 11 to stop posting course median grades on a university website. The resolution, aimed at ending grade inflation, passed by a margin of about 3-to-1, according Dean of the University Faculty William Fry.
The resolution states that students have been using online information on course median grades — halfway between the lowest and highest — to sign up for classes in which higher grades are awarded, contributing to grade inflation at Cornell.

This is stupid. Providing people with less information has never improved things and smacks of authoritarianism.

Obviously students are using publically available median grades to select courses. That’s the point. But that doesn’t cause or contribute to grade inflation, the increase over time of American college students’ grades. Just revealing the median grade tells students how difficult the course is. That information can be an important factor in making course selection.

What does that have to do with grade inflation? Are the grades—which admittedly have increased since Cornell made median grades public, though they were increasing before that too—unfair? Maybe address that.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Jamie Johnsons on November 01, 2011 3:59 AM:

    Grade inflation is the tendency of academic grades for work of comparable quality to increase over time. If there are inflating grades, any school or teacher that takes a "hold out" stance will place its students at a disadvantage. Some educators may feel pressured to give higher grades for fear of students complaining and receiving bad course evaluations, thereby diminishing their reputation resulting in denial of promotion or tenure, or causing them to face lower enrollment in their classes. If grade inflation occurs, a teacher must improve evaluations by improving their teaching and that is the strategy that comes most quickly to mind for achieving better evaluations is to give higher grades for assignments and exams.