How to fix college grade inflation

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Article Highlights

  • The median grade in Harvard is an A-. The most frequently awarded grade is actually a straight A.

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  • Grade inflation isn't just a problem at Harvard.

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  • Colleges and universities need to take serious steps towards reining in grade inflation.

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Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield stirred up controversy recently by criticizing the rampant grade inflation at his institution. As reported by the Harvard Crimson, at a faculty meeting earlier this month, Mansfield asked the Dean of Undergraduate Education about the college's grade distribution, stating, "A little bird has told me that the most frequently given grade at Harvard College right now is an A-." The Dean corrected him: "The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-. The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A."

Grade inflation isn't just a problem at Harvard. A recent study of 200 colleges and universities found that more than 40 percent of all grades awarded were in the A range. Some have argued that these inflated grades are necessary to help students get ahead in a competitive job market. While that might be true for an individual professor or university, at the national level grade inflation is a negative-sum game that imposes serious costs on society. Therefore, universities need to take steps to bring it under control.

This article appeared in US News & World Report on December 26, 2013. It will be published here on January 2, 2014.

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