There has been quite a stir on the Internet these past few days after the New York Times broke the news that ten law schools in the U.S. are boosting student’s grades on purpose. Apparently this method is becoming popular for law schools because it not only helps their student records, it also protects the school’s reputation and rank.
Some of the ten schools are New York University, Georgetown University, the University of Southern California, Golden Gate University, Tulane University, as well as Loyola Law School Los Angeles, who have added 0.333 to every student’s grade for the past few years. Some law schools like Harvard and Stanford have recently developed a pass/fail grading system, similar to that of law schools at University of California, Berkeley, and Yale.
This new grade inflation policy has been receiving mixed reviews. One blogger at the LA weekly wrote an article titled “Students At Loyola Law School Get Better Grades Without Having To Earn Them,” while another article on thecareerist.com states “What’s Wrong with Grade Inflation?” Author Vivia Chen writes:
“Personally, I’m all for grade inflation. I definitely could have used it when I was in law school. More importantly, I also believe that employers should take a more holistic approach to hiring. In fact, sometimes employers, who are not allowed to prescreen are so impressed by interviewees with less than perfect transcripts that they end up giving them offers…So a little attention to such frivolous things as personality might not be a bad thing.”
Stuard Rojstaczer, a grade inflation expert who used to work as a geophysics professor at Duke University, also put in his two cents on the issue in the NYT article:
“If somebody’s paying $150,000 for a law school degree, you don’t want to call them a loser at the end…So you artificially call every student a success.”
Traditionally, law schools have been known to enforce strict grade rules on the number of A’s and B’s awarded, which has added a lot of pressure to law students. For instance, in 2004 Princeton University announced that it would be curbing grade inflation so only 35 percent of students in each class are awarded an A.
In the NYT article published last January, one Princeton studentis quoted as saying:
“The nightmare scenario…is that you apply with a 3.5 from Princeton and someone just as smart as you applies with a 3.8 from Yale.”
In the same article, another Princeton student states:
“People intuitively take a G.P.A. to be a representation of your academic ability and act accordingly. The assumption that a recruiter who is screening applications is going to treat a Princeton student differently based on a letter is naïve.”
Lynn O’Shaughnessy, the author of The College Solution and blogger for CBSMoneyWatch.com, wrote an article this past March in which she defines 3 reasons why grade inflation is becoming more and more popular:
1. Professors don’t want to jeopardize students’ chances for graduate school and jobs after those fun college years are over.
2. Professors can be cowed by the teacher evaluation forms that students complete. No teacher wants a terrible rating on RateMyProfessors.com.
3. At expensive private schools, students and their parents expect high grades to match these institutions’ high price tags.
But the numbers speak for themselves: in the past 50 years GPAs have been increasing by approximately 0.1 to 0.2 per decade. Here is a list of the GPA statistics for some of the universities mentioned, according to gradeinflation.com:
- Harvard University (1889 – 2005)
- UC-Berkeley (1960 – 2006)
- Georgetown University (1974 – 2006)
- University of Southern California (1990 – 2009)
- Stanford University (1917 – 2005)
- Princeton University (1969 – 2008)
- Yale University (1963 – 2008)
When the economy fails, grades inflate
Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy wrote a report in March of 2010 which studies grading patterns in American colleges and universities. Their report uses statistics from over 160 colleges and universities in America, all of which have a combined enrollment of over 2,000,000 students. The authors claim in the report that grades are used as a motivational tool for students, especially when the economy goes sour.
The report explains that grades rise depending on the state of the economy: During the 1930s and 1940s grades rose “measurably” during the Great Depression, and there was also a “rapid rise” in the 1960s during the Vietnam War. Since then, grades have been rising steadily since the 1980s, which coincides with the Stock Market Crash of 1987, the dot-com crash in 2000, and of course, the most recent Stock Market Crash of 2008.