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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Grade inflation contributes to a poor learning environment, but there are ways to address it

The semester is now underway, and students’ main focus is back on grades. But each year, students need to worry less about earning As because it has become increasingly easy to merely receive it.

Grade inflation has been on the rise at top universities, and critics have said it devalues degrees. But the point of college is to learn, and grade inflation could certainly prevent students from learning. Receiving a poor grade is not necessarily bad because it can teach students which classes are not the right fit for them and give them an idea of what material they do not understand. But many students are obsessed with their grades, almost to an unhealthy point, because better grades mean a better chance of admission to top graduate programs and landing a career. When grades are inflated at one school but not another, it can make students feel like they are getting an unfair disadvantage.

Still, students are not the ones inflating grades – professors are. Critics have blamed students for grade inflation, saying they come from a “coddled” generation that pressures professors to dish out A’s to please their classes. But grade inflation does not help students or professors – it only contributes to a poor learning environment. Universities must combat grade inflation by ensuring professors have the tools to grade fairly and accurately.

Students around the country have all heard the claim that they are spoiled, receiving participation trophies and grades they did not earn. But they are not at fault for either – students do not choose to receive participation trophies, and they cannot choose their grades. Grade inflation is a systemic problem caused by the actions of both professors and administrators who want their students to be sent off to the best graduate programs and into the best careers.

One way to curb grade inflation could be as simple as adjusting professor evaluations. At many universities, professors who receive accolades from students in their evaluations are more likely to receive tenure. Student evaluations also factor into whether a professor receives a pay raise among universities. As a result, professors are incentivized to give students grades they did not entirely earn to ensure they receive high marks on evaluations. Students might feel good about the high marks in the short term, but they are actually suffering more because, in the end, they are learning less.

Students could fill out evaluations earlier in the semester to prevent professors from making a last-ditch effort to receive good reviews. Professors would not feel that their grading decisions directly impact their evaluations, and the reviews would help them adjust their teaching style throughout the semester to ensure students are learning.

The University should also acknowledge the strategies used to combat grade inflation that have not panned out at other schools. For instance, placing a cap on the number of As, Bs and Cs – which officials discussed in 2010 – was tried out at Princeton University in 2014, but students were not satisfied with the change. In a similar vein, proposals to create a slide grading scale does not necessarily allow students to maximize their learning because professors are restricted in their grading. Professors need to use practical strategies that help them improve their teaching.

It is easy to say that student complaints lead to grade inflation. Students are hyper-focused on grades to stay competitive with their peers and earn admission to top colleges, but professors are ultimately the ones entering the final marks in Banweb. The truth is that grade inflation is started by colleges themselves to remain competitive and claim that they churn out students with top grades. Students should wonder if grade inflation is benefiting them or their university’s reputation.

In reality, grade inflation does not help students or the universities that use it. There is no one clear path to end grade inflation, but deflating grades is necessary to protect the integrity of college as a learning environment and not just a credential factory. Combating grade inflation requires effort from professors, who can choose to end it by collectively changing how they grade, and by administrators. College officials can stop grade inflation by simply changing the way professors are evaluated and being transparent about grade distributions.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of copy editor Natalie Prieb, managing director Leah Potter, design editor Olivia Columbus, sports editor Emily Maise and culture editor Sidney Lee.

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