Cornell vs. Grade Inflation

Since 1998 Cornell University has publically revealed to its students what the median grades are for all courses. On May 11 the school’s Faculty Senate voted to make that information secret.

According to an article by Susan Kelley in the Cornell Chronicle:

The Faculty Senate voted May 11 to stop posting course median grades on a university website. The resolution, aimed at ending grade inflation, passed by a margin of about 3-to-1, according Dean of the University Faculty William Fry.

The resolution states that students have been using online information on course median grades — halfway between the lowest and highest — to sign up for classes in which higher grades are awarded, contributing to grade inflation at Cornell.

This is stupid. Providing people with less information has never improved things and smacks of authoritarianism.

Obviously students are using publically available median grades to select courses. That’s the point. But that doesn’t cause or contribute to grade inflation, the increase over time of American college students’ grades. Just revealing the median grade tells students how difficult the course is. That information can be an important factor in making course selection.

What does that have to do with grade inflation? Are the grades—which admittedly have increased since Cornell made median grades public, though they were increasing before that too—unfair? Maybe address that.

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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