In 1960, the average undergraduate grade awarded in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota was 2.27 on a four-point scale
. In other words, the average letter grade at the University of Minnesota in the early 1960s was about a C+, and that was consistent with average grades at other colleges and universities in that era. In fact, that average grade of C+ (2.30-2.35 on a 4-point scale) had been pretty stable at America's colleges going all the way back to the 1920s (see chart above from GradeInflation.com
, a website maintained by Stuart
Rojstaczer, a retired Duke University professor who has tirelessly
crusaded for several decades against "grade inflation" at U.S.
By 2006, the average GPA at public universities in the U.S. had risen to 3.01 and at private universities to 3.30. That means that the average GPA at public universities in 2006 was equivalent to a letter grade of B, and at private universities a B+, and it's likely that grades and GPAs have continued to inflate over the last six years.
"A University of Minnesota chemistry professor has thrust the U into a
national debate about grade inflation and the rigor of college, pushing
his colleagues to stop pretending that average students are excellent
and start making clear to employers which students are earning their
"I would like to state my own alarm and dismay at the degree to which
grade compression ... has infected some of our colleges," said
Christopher Cramer, chairman of the Faculty Consultative Committee. "I
think we are at serious risk, through the abandonment of our own
commitment of rigorous academic standards, of having outside standards
imposed upon us."
National studies and surveys suggest that college students now get
more A's than any other grade even though they spend less time studying. Cramer's solution -- to tack onto every transcript the percentage of
students that also got that grade -- has split the faculty and
highlighted how tricky it can be to define, much less combat, grade
: As one University of Minnesota
undergraduate student explained the rising GPA trend when evaluating a
professor known as a rigorous grader, "We live in a grade-inflated
." That University of Minnesota anthropology professor Karen-Sue
Taussig suspects that today's "grade-inflated world
" can be traced to
the growing cost of a college degree, i.e. today's "tuition-inflated
." As Taussig told the Star Tribune, "They're paying for it,
and they worked really hard, and they put in time, and therefore they
think they should get a good grade."
Last year, Professor Rojstaczer and co-author Christopher Healy published a research article in the Teachers College Record titled "Where A Is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading, 1940–2009." The main conclusion of the paper appears below (emphasis added), and is illustrated by the chart below showing the rising share of A letter grades over time at American colleges, from 15% in 1940 to 43% by 2008. Starting in about 1998, the letter grade A became the most common college grade.
"Conclusion: Across a wide range of schools, As represent 43% of all letter grades,
an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points
since 1988. Ds and Fs total typically less than 10% of all letter
grades. Private colleges and universities give, on average,
significantly more As and Bs combined than public institutions with
equal student selectivity. Southern schools grade more harshly than
those in other regions, and science and engineering-focused schools
grade more stringently than those emphasizing the liberal arts. It
is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools,
undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have
little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for
graduate and professional schools and employers."
The connections among "grade inflation, "tuition inflation," "college textbook inflation," and exponentially rising student loan debt are important. Perhaps students find it easier to accept rising tuition, higher textbook prices (many selling for $200-300 now), and $25,000 in average student loan debt if they at least graduate with mostly As and a GPA above 3.0? Even if they can't find a job, they can take pride in having "earned" an inflated GPA?