AEIdeas

The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute

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Discussion: (40 comments)

  1. SeattleSam

    So when you decrease the price of one thing relative to another (e.g. the amount of effort required to obtain a given grade from Prof A vs. Prof B). demand increases?

    Seems to me there are two possibilities here: 1) That university administrators don’t understand economics or 2) That they do understand economics and are very much trying to achieve the outcomes you note here. What would possibly lead a university to create a brand identity as “The Easiest 3.5 GPA Around”?

  2. Walt Greenway

    Is this free market principles at work? The pricing/grading transparency is causing students to shop for grades. All quality measurements aside, why pay $1000 for a C when you can get an A for the same price?

    I keep excellent records for grades because I have had a few formal complaints over the years, and I have had to answer them to the dean. Scantron scoring and Excel spreadsheet downloads out of Blackboard are your friend to dispel any complaints very quickly.

    I have a problem with the terminology of instructors “giving” grades. Grades are earned by students, and that should be mentioned numerous times in the required syllabus. CYA with that syllabus :)

    1. Well, when you’re sweating and possibly failing the CPA exam after graduation, you might be looking back with regret that your chose your accounting professors based on who was the easiest grader.

      1. Walt Greenway

        Agreed. Third-party testing is a real equalizer. Most of our techincial programs require industry certification and/or state or federal licensing after graduation.

        I still see non-fulltime, non-tenure, non-union employees and heavy online instruction as the wave of the future.

      2. “Well, when you’re sweating and possibly failing the CPA exam after graduation”

        Pffft. Don’t do that. If you’re interested in academic quality, don’t be a B-school bozo (or educationism or home ec/family science). Get a physics or engineering or biochemistry degree.

        Oh, that’s right; you wouldn’t be able to pay off the loans because of the toll from 22 years of undermining the STEM job markets by flooding them with cheap, young, pliant foreign labor with flexible ethics. On to plan C, which Greenspan repeatedly confessed he knew not (and, of course, no one in the Obummer regime has a clue of a clue).

  3. Of course the idea of selecting the professor only applies in things like general education courses and other large courses. Once you get to 300 and 400 level courses, there typically is one section offered, and one professor. Further the degree requirements say which courses you will take. Now the very popular service courses are obviously different in that there may well be multiple sections offered.
    All this means that the service courses and 100 and 200 level courses will carry less weight, but then how much do they carry, unless you flunk them now?

    1. Yes, you MUST take this class, and exactly then THAT one, sit these many hours in class (dying from boredom). No variations permitted. All must plod the same wagon ruts, the same as in Middle and High schools. Oh, OK, we’ll shoe-horn in these 2 electives.

      That’s the trouble. It’s about serving time, and paying money, NOT about learning, let alone knowledge, and certainly not about critical reasoning. Profs should be learning and research coaches, not indoctrinators, not slave over-seers (and not minimal-content bull session facilitators, either).

      And in the end, it’s still not about what you learned. It’s about the stupid credential.

      I was just reading Flynn’s book _Blue Collar Intellectuals_, about Friedman, and Adler, and Hoffer, but this applies to Einstein and Pauling and others. Most of them did not trod the curriculum; they went around it to learn and do great things despite, e.g. dropping out of HS, getting no BS, etc. They LEARNED, and then they edited and wrote and spoke about what they had or were learning.

  4. PeakTrader

    It should be noted, many classes became harder or there’s more to learn.

    The standard of “average” is higher today than in the past.

    1. PeakTrader

      If Babe Ruth played today, would he still be the great player compared to his peers?

      1. Citizen B.

        Babe Ruth has the highest Wins Above Replacement(WAR) statistic in all of baseball history, by far. WAR is thought to be the most important baseball stat and the highest number this past season was Mike Trout’s WAR.

        Here are all of Babe Ruth’s stats. Note that baseball’s greatest non-pitcher was also a pitcher for ten of his twenty- two seasons.

        1. PeakTrader

          Both pitching and hitting improved over time, along with fielding, running, etc..

          1. Citizen B.

            Peak Trader, please know that the pitcher’s mound was lowered by a third in 1969 to help hitters. Also, performance chemicals have helped many modern era players with fielding, running and hitting.

            Babe Ruth’s stats stand the test of time and are not inflated by artificial enhancements to the game. Babe’s grades were harder to get then Mike Trout’s (who should have been MVP in 2012).

          2. PeakTrader

            Citizen B., please know Ruth didn’t play against black players, few, if any, latin players, and few white pro players.

            It’s easier to be a high school champ, but harder to compete countywide, statewide, nationally, or internationally.

            Also, how do you know Ruth wasn’t on “performance chemicals?” He died of cancer at 53.

            Your “test of time” contradicts your statement, and lowering the pitcher’s mound is irrelevant.

            Ruth played when the competition was much weaker.

          3. Everything I’ve ever heard about Babe was that his favorite performance-enhancing substance was alcohol, followed closely by lard.

    2. morganovich

      peak-

      i do not think that is true at all.

      classes have been dumbed down, not made harder. workload is lower, not higher.

      students spend fewer hours studying and red fewer books. this was a consistent lament even when i was in school.

      further, far more people go to college now AND grades are higher.

      either the middle of the bell curve has shifted massively, or the schools have been dumbed down.

      if the top 50 percentiles go to college instead of the top 20 and classes got harder, then you would expect a big drop in grade, not an increase.

      your notion that classes are somehow “harder” is pure fiction.

      1. Walt Greenway

        Where’s the grade adjustment for being able to do a major research paper from home using the Internet in hours now instead of spending days in a library looking up sources with the Dewey Decimal cards like it used to be? I figure that alone raised my GPA a half to a full point holding everything else constant. Part of the reason college is easier now is because some things are more convenient from progress.

        We measure success from letter grades instead of actual learning, and we always have. The evidence shows that unless some objective standard is used that is separate from the person giving the instruction, a letter grade is not a useful achievement measurement now or in the past. That same problem would still even exist if all instructors were full time. For example, passing the CPA test would be great outcome measurement. If your “A” students fail the test, you better re-examine your program.

        1. Walt

          Where’s the grade adjustment for being able to do a major research paper from home using the Internet in hours now instead of spending days in a library looking up sources with the Dewey Decimal cards like it used to be? I figure that alone raised my GPA a half to a full point holding everything else constant.

          Your right, of course, it’s way easier to plagiarize from the internet with cut and paste than it is to copy from library books by hand. Quality of work should be much higher these days.

          1. Walt Greenway

            Ron,

            Plagiarism is much, much easier to catch now than the old days. I have all research papers turned in to Blackboard and run it thru Turn-It-In.

            For my first economics class in the 1970s, I used a slide rule and graph paper. For my next economics class in the 2000s, I used a computer and software. The 2000s class was much easier and I received a higher grade (of course, I am a lot more mature, too). If course content has been held constant since then, the class grade would be expected to naturally rise from technology improvements. Everything is becoming easier and quicker, so why would we expect education not to follow? Criterion-based grading can be expected to rise over time. Why would we expect student grades not to rise unless we are using normative grading? (grading on a class curve)

            We will never have letter grades that can be used to determine what exiting students actually know in any era. Letter grades are just too subjective with no set standard and have no reliability or validity even in the best of cases. Third-party testing can determine what students know, but that is much more common in the training field than the education field.

          2. Walt

            Plagiarism is much, much easier to catch now than the old days. I have all research papers turned in to Blackboard and run it thru Turn-It-In.

            My comment was mostly tongue-in-cheek, which I know is hard to detect in a blog comment.

            For my first economics class in the 1970s, I used a slide rule and graph paper. For my next economics class in the 2000s, I used a computer and software. The 2000s class was much easier and I received a higher grade (of course, I am a lot more mature, too).

            The biggest difference may be that you had a much better instructor in the 2000s. :)

            If course content has been held constant since then, the class grade would be expected to naturally rise from technology improvements. Everything is becoming easier and quicker, so why would we expect education not to follow?

            Mostly because the device that does the actual learning hasn’t improved in that time. I would expect class content to increase as activities not directly related to learning are reduced, for example time spent driving or walking to the library, etc. Holding class content constant, while effectively increasing the time available to learn it, can also be called “dumbing down”.

            Criterion-based grading can be expected to rise over time. Why would we expect student grades not to rise unless we are using normative grading? (grading on a class curve)

            Yes, but as I said above…

            We will never have letter grades that can be used to determine what exiting students actually know in any era. Letter grades are just too subjective with no set standard and have no reliability or validity even in the best of cases.

            There is no non-subjective method of determining what exiting students know.

            Third-party testing can determine what students know, but that is much more common in the training field than the education field.

            Hmm. And all this time I thought training WAS education.

          3. Walt Greenway

            Ron,

            Training and education is not the same thing at all, but they can be done at the same time. I can train someone how to change an igniter on a furnace and educate them why fuel needs a correct mixture to burn. Training is mostly how and education is mostly why. The assessment methodology is different, too. Pass or fail with scores above a threshold of 70% or 80% are usual for certifications in my training fields after receiving letter grades in a classroom.

            Criterion-based grading needs to have explicitly stated learning outcomes and a grading rubric to have any comparative value across different institutions. We are not now or never have been to the point that an “A” even means the same thing in the same institution by different instructors. I have been teaching part time off and on since the mid 1980s, and I have never received formal instruction on exactly how to give letter grades to students from any educational institutions, and I doubt few others have. We do have “academic rigor” seminars quite often. How can we expect random events such as letter grades really to mean much of anything?

            Would an “A” in 2005 instead of a “C” in 1973 between my economics classes mean I had a better instructor, I worked harder, or I had an easier grading instructor? Letter grades are not necessarily measuring student learning. How are you ever going to remove the extraneous variables using instructor-determined letter grades for students?

          4. Walt

            Criterion-based grading needs to have explicitly stated learning outcomes and a grading rubric to have any comparative value across different institutions. We are not now or never have been to the point that an “A” even means the same thing in the same institution by different instructors.

            And that’s the problem. As I’ve written, there is no way to objectively measure outcomes as all value is subjective. You can only approximate. An ‘A” will never mean the same thing across all institutions and instructors, nor across all groups of students.

            You may set course objectives, and then attempt to measure expected outcomes against actual outcomes, but even at that the objectives are described in subjective terms.

            “After completing this class a student will be expected to show proficiency in…blah, blah, blah.” Whatever “proficiency” means.

            Perhaps a better measure of learning would be to ask entering students to state their objectives in taking the class and at completion to rate the class as to how well it met those objectives.

            In another comment you wrote:

            The evidence shows that unless some objective standard is used that is separate from the person giving the instruction, a letter grade is not a useful achievement measurement now or in the past.

            That “objective” standard can only determine whether the class has “trained” the student to pass whatever test is given.

            It’s not clear why you think there is a benefit to some national standard, or a uniform standard across institutions for measuring learning. There are entirely too many variables to make it useful.

            Couldn’t the market better determine which institutions, programs. classes and instructors were more valuable?

          5. Walt Greenway

            “Couldn’t the market better determine which institutions, programs. classes and instructors were more valuable?”

            I train people to get jobs using the current rules and regulations. I think if they can get a job and feed themselves and their family they will be able to make the world a better place to live. People without jobs are cynical enough about the “system” without me helping them along.

            In my spare time, I write my representatives to give my opinion about what I think needs to be changed. Sometimes that means more rules and sometimes fewer rules.

      2. PeakTrader

        Morganovich, you must have took easy classes or went to a school that gave easy grades.

        Students learn more, instructors learned more, and the cycle, in general, continues.

        1. Peak

          Morganovich, you must have took taken easy classes or went gone to a school that gave easy grades.

          Not to sound too picky, but did you benefit from grade inflation in English class?

          1. Let’s try that again. Where oh where is my preview button?

            Peak

            Morganovich, you must have took taken easy classes or went gone to a school that gave easy grades.

            Not to sound too picky, but did you benefit from grade inflation in English class?

          2. PeakTrader

            Ron, so:

            “You took” is incorrect.
            “You taken” is correct.

            “You went” is incorrect.
            “You gone” is correct.

          3. Peak says:

            Ron

            “You took” is incorrect.
            “You taken” is correct.

            “You went” is incorrect.
            “You gone” is correct.

            My failure to correctly use strikeout text caused irreparable damage to my comment – twice.

            The “preview” and “delete” buttons we enjoyed with Blogger would have prevented my moronic looking comments from being cast in concrete.

            In context:

            “You must have took” is incorrect.
            “You must have taken” is correct.

            “You must have went” is incorrect.
            “You must have gone” is correct.

            Morganovich, you must have taken easy classes or (you must have) gone to a school that gave easy grades.

            Alternatively:

            Morganovich, you must have taken easy classes or you went to a school that gave easy grades.”

            Prof Perry has inspired me to improve my grammar. :)

          4. PeakTrader

            Ron, use some verbs.

            You don’t want to be taken and gone.

          5. Peak

            Ron, use some verbs.

            You don’t want to be taken and gone.

            I would rather be taken and gone than took and went.

    3. Citizen B.

      Peak Trader, Babe Ruth was known to play with a performance de-hancer. Booze via flask..

      The percentage black players was only 8.5% in 2011.

      The pitcher mound was deliberately lowered to give batters a better chance. There were 30 game pitching winners leading up to the change in 1969. The higher mound only highlights the high level of hitting for the Babe.

      “It’s easier to be a high school champ, but harder to compete countywide, statewide, nationally, or internationally.”

      Peak, Babe Ruth did play at the international level. Hell, he played on seven World Series winning teams. :-) I wonder what my baseball signed by Baby Ruth is worth?

      1. PeakTrader

        Citizen B., your statements only reflect the obvious: Ruth was a great player relative to other players in that era.

        And I wouldn’t be surprised if a signed baseball by Ruth is more valuable than a signed copy of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes.

        1. Citizen B.

          My comment about a Baby Ruth signed baseball was a stretch reference to Leave It To Beaver, Episode #106 titled “Ward’s Baseball”. The Beaver lost his dad’s Babe Ruth autographed baseball and signed a new one Baby Ruth to replace it.

          We disagree about the Babe’s all-timeness. C’est tout.

        2. Peak

          Wow. Markets in everything. Who would have thought?

          Obviously valued for it’s uniqueness, not it’s content.

  5. Dave Thomas

    Why don’t universities fire part-time instructors who inflate grades compared to full-time instructors?

    1. Simple answer they are far far cheaper at $3 to 4k per course, than a tenured professor, since they don’t have to be paid for committee work and the like as well as research.

      1. of course, but that isn’t an answer that necessarily makes sense.

        If costs and performance rise, so does reputation.

        Not to mention the fact that all of these colleges understand perfectly well that they will receive some government aid (increasing amounts as they add stupid things to their colleges).

        Why do colleges shell out money for things like rock walls before they hire full time teachers over part time teachers?

        I’m not saying you’re wrong lyle. But something is really missing in my understanding.

        1. Walt Greenway

          Cody,

          What missing is any quantifiable measurement of learning other than subjective grades. The next time you walk into a college class ask the professor/instructor for an explicit list of learning outcomes you are expected to learn in the class and how you will be assessed that you have successfully met them at the end of the class.

          Great college curricula are mapped by each course to program outcomes. Each course should specifically include which outcomes they address by introduction, reinforcement, or assessment. The proliferation of online classes at multiple locations with multiple part-time instructors demand that administrators clearly inform students of what they will learn and what is expected of them.

          Don’t let rock walls that probably cost less than .001% of the overall college budget cloud your judgment of a college. The marketing folks have a job to do, and that rock wall might just be the difference of luring a student away from a competing college. Perspective students are not always rational.

          1. The metric used to evaluate courses back in the early 1970s and I suspect today is cost per credit hour. Using that metric as the only one, leads to adjuncts being used, since in does reduce the cost per credit hour.

          2. Walt Greenway

            Here are some factors that are measured nationally. Check out your college.
            College Metrics

            Institutional Characteristics (2011-12)

            Pricing and Tuition (2011-12)

            Admissions (2011-12)

            Completions (2010-11)

            12-month Enrollment (2010-11)

            Fall Enrollment (2010)

            Graduation Rates (2010)

            Student Financial Aid (2010-11)

            Finance (2009-10)

            Human Resources (2011-12)

  6. I think there is one important fact missing from this analysis: What was the “required class”?

    Are we talking about a very typical “required” college class, such as LIT 100, maybe intro to American government, or rocks-for-jocks-get-your-science-requirement-out of-the-way class? Really, who gives a rat’s rear what grade anybody gets in these classes?

    Tell me what classes we’re talking about, and I’ll let you know if I’m concerned.

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