The Grade Inflation Police

Some people at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is trying to crack down on grade inflation, the increase over time of American college students’ grades. According to a New York Times article by Tamar Lewin in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

If everybody in the class gets an A, what does an A mean? The answer: Not what it should, says Andrew Perrin, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “An A should mean outstanding work; it should not be the default grade,” Mr. Perrin said. “If everyone gets an A for adequate completion of tasks, it cripples our ability to recognize exemplary scholarship.”

While this is a little silly (there is very little “exemplary scholarship” at the undergraduate level) Perrin may be working on something interesting. Despite the fact that academics have worried about grade inflation for more than 100 years, there’s some evidence that students’ mean grade point average has increased by about 0.1 each decade since the 1960s.

Perrin is working with his school’s registrar to try and get more information—putting the mean GPA in individual courses on student transcripts—out about UNC grades. While the whole notion of the evils of grade inflation is a little overblown, why not include a little more information?

Still, Perrin is facing quite a task. A whole lot of people at UNC—professors, students, and administrators—will probably want to keep context about grades a secret.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer