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January 31, 2010 9:13 PM Grade Deflation

By Daniel Luzer

Princeton.jpg

In 2004 some colleges are tried, again, to crack down on grade inflation, the increase in the GPA of students at American over time, without any change in standards. But the effort only really took at Princeton University, which dramatically decreased the amount of A’s it awarded. Now it’s starting to hurt. According to an article in the New York Times:

“The nightmare scenario, if you will, is that you apply with a 3.5 from Princeton and someone just as smart as you applies with a 3.8 from Yale,” said Daniel E. Rauch, a senior from Millburn, N.J.
The percentage of Princeton grades in the A range dipped below 40 percent last year, down from nearly 50 percent when the policy was adopted in 2004. The class of 2009 had a mean grade-point average of 3.39, compared with 3.46 for the class of 2003. In a survey last year by the undergraduate student government, 32 percent of students cited the grading policy as the top source of unhappiness.

Whether or not grade inflation is a real thing is debatable. The trouble is that since only Princeton decided to target grade inflation, only Princeton awarded less A’s than it used to. Since the policy wasn’t widely known, or followed, effectively this means that Princeton students just have lower GPAs than students from other schools.

The policy was mildly annoying for students (though Princeton apparently send out an explanation to graduate schools and potential employers to explain the policy) but now, with the recession, many worry the limit on A’s will prevent students from getting jobs.

While just going to Princeton at all is probably a good way of getting past the first cut from the HR department, many students complain the policy is unfair: “People intuitively take a G.P.A. to be a representation of your academic ability and act accordingly,” complained one student. “The assumption that a recruiter who is screening applications is going to treat a Princeton student differently based on a letter is naive.”

Of course, of all the injustices in the world this is probably not the most grievous. Some colleges don’t offer letter grades at all. Try not putting the GPA in the cover letter next time.

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