Grade inflation trends nationwide; but not an issue at Baruch
Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 21, 2011 15:11
As, Bs, Cs, and other letter grades have always been a serious factor in a college student's life, as the accumulation of these grades directly influences the cumulative grade point average, a metric that many college students live and die by.
According to Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University professor and a widely cited researcher on the subject of grade inflation, ever since the 1960s, more and more As and Bs letter grades are awarded to college students nationwide.
Rojstaczer is far from the lone voice in this contentious subject. Alexander Astin, a University of California Los Angeles professor of higher education found in his 40-year longitudinal survey that a higher proportion of entering college freshmen reported having graduated high school with an A average.
All of these sentiments are further echoed by Larry Summer. The former treasury secretary and former Harvard University president told Washington Post's reporter Daniel De Vise that, "Ninety percent of Harvard graduates graduated with honors when I started, [and] The most unique honor you could graduate with was none."
In a New York Times analysis of Rojstaczer's data, it was found that public colleges and universities are equally complicit in the nationwide increase in grades as with their private counterparts.
At Baruch, according to Provost James McCarthy, who is also the vice president for academic affairs, the administration has no particular position in regard to the issue of grade inflation, as the administration believes that all elements of the curriculum, including grading, is under the purview of the faculty.
"Courses are approved by departmental and school curriculum committees, but faculty have a great deal of freedom to carry out courses as they see fit," said McCarthy. "Administrators exert no pressure whatsoever on faculty grading practices."
Nonetheless, McCarthy explained that in his opinion, he believed that grade inflation does not constitute a major issue for the majority of Baruch's faculty.
"There have certainly been discussions among some faculty on grade inflation, but my sense is that it is not an issue that is among the top priorities of faculty at Baruch," said Provost McCarthy
Faculty in the Weissman School of Arts and Science for instance are strongly advised to be conscious about the effects of grade inflation explained Gary Hentzi, the associate dean of the Weissman school.
Hentzi described that there exists no single common grading metric, as faculty from each respective department have different methods of evaluating a student mastery of material.
He drew on an example that an English professor does not necessary evaluate a student's critique on literature according to the same criteria of a mathematics professor.
"Faculty are hired and promoted in part because they possess detailed knowledge of the criteria appropriate to their disciplines, and it is their duty as professionals to apply these criteria responsibly," said Hentzi.
He furthered that grade inflation constitute a conscious misrepresentation to both the student and to anyone who examines the student's transcript.
A different approach take holds in the School of Public Affairs since the majority of the school teaching is done in the graduate level where the letter grade ‘D' is not recognized. Furthermore, unlike in the undergraduate level, graduate students must maintain a minimum of a 3.0 GPA in order to remain in good standing with the college.
However, according to David Birdsell, the dean of the School of Public Affairs, precautionary steps still exist, as whenever grades were found to be unusually high in a given course, inquiries would be made to ensure the course remains appropriately rigorous.
Echoing Provost McCarty's belief, he does not think that grade inflation is a big problem here at Baruch. Still, he acknowledges that grade inflation continues to plague many institutes nationwide.
"And that does make the comparison of academic achievement across institutions more difficult for employers, graduate programs, and any other entity relying on grades as an indication of an applicant's capabilities," said Dean Birdsell.
For professor Glenn Peterson, who chairs the department of Sociology and Anthropology, he believes the current discussion on grade inflation carries another meaning.
"Speaking only for myself, I would say that the primary reason there is fear of ‘grade inflation' in the United States is that education is not especially valued for itself and is instead viewed as a credential for getting a job or into graduate school," said Peterson.
In the department of Sociology and Anthropology's faculty handbook that he wrote, it stated that the department has neither official nor unofficial policies concerning grade distributions and stating that there is no inherent reason for a class to have it grade curve around a C-grade, as he reasoned that if faculty teaches effectively, few students should fail.