An ad hoc committee on undergraduate grading policy at Yale University that recommended a series of proposals aimed at addressing the university’s rampant grade inflation has drawn attention to swollenGPAs at schools across the nation.   .

In the spring semester of 2012, 62 percent of the Yale student body received A’s, compared to 40 years ago when this figure was only 10 percent.

The committee recommended Feb. 7 that the university switch from a letter grade system to a 100-point scale, which will give the faculty more flexibility in assigning grades. The panel suggested a grade distribution that would place 35 percent of students in the A range, 40 percent of students in the B range, 20 percent in the C range, 4 to 5 percent of students in the D range and less than 1 percent meriting an F. If approved by the faculty, the proposals will be implemented in the 2014-2015 school year.

Other institutions have also attempted to reduce grade inflation. Nine years ago, Princeton University introduced a standardized grade distribution which keeps the levels of A’s below 40 percent.

Georgetown has not been immune from grade inflation but has taken little concrete action to curtail the trend.

“The median grade has continued to go up at Georgetown, as it has at other institutions,” University Registrar and Assistant Provost John Pierce said. “Grades have been going up across the board.”

Over 50 percent of Georgetown College graduates last year received some form of Latin honors, putting the school’s median grade point average above 3.5, according to an editorial in The Hoya this fall. Yale instituted a policy in 1988 capping the percentage of students who graduate with Latin honors at 30, according to the Yale Daily News.

Despite this high statistic, Georgetown students reported that they dedicate fewer hours to coursework than students at peer institutions, according to a survey from the 1998 and 2008 Intellectual Life Reports authored by the Main Executive Faculty.

“Those reports encouraged faculty to challenge students a bit more and consider limiting grades in the A, A- range to approximately 30 to 35 percent of the students in a given course,” MEF Chair and theology professor Terrence Reynolds said.  “Naturally, these were recommendations and not requirements, and as I gather, individual professors and departments have responded to them somewhat differently.”

The McDonough School of Business is the only school at Georgetown to require that departments use a standardized grade distribution. The MSB implemented a grading curve with a maximum average of 3.3 in core courses in the spring of 2009.

“The rationale for the grading curve was consistency in grading and evaluation of the students across sections, particularly where there are many sections of the same course,” Norean Sharpe, senior associate dean and director of undergraduate programs in the MSB, said. “It really was put in place by the faculty out of fairness and equity from the student perspective because of feedback that we had received.”

Sharpe also noted that employers have lauded with the grade distribution.

“I meet on a regular basis with folks from PwC, Deloitte, Citibank, Estee Lauder and Armani,” Sharpe said. “They know our curve and respect our scale and are saying, give us more graduate [and] undergraduate business students.”

College Senior Associate Dean Anne Sullivan noted that the philosophy department, among a few others, has implemented the changes recommended in the report but that many have chosen not to edit their policies.

“Some departments choose to use grading guidelines and others do not,” Sullivan said. “It is a problem to the extent that grading gives students feedback, and students deserve an opportunity to learn from their grade. It is a serious problem but one that’s hard to deal with because some professors will just say, look, all of these students deserve A’s.”

Reynolds worries that this kind of mentality is actually harmful to students.

“We should challenge [students] academically and imaginatively to produce their finest work,” Reynolds said. “Grade inflation, where it occurs, mistakenly suggests mastery of a subject area when something less than genuinely excellent work has been submitted.”

Students applying to law or graduate school, however, will compete against applicants from other undergraduate institutions that may follow significantly different grading policies.

“The Admissions Committee is aware that there is grade inflation at some undergraduate institutions,” said Caroline Springer, associate director of graduate admissions and professional development at the Georgetown Law Center.

According to Springer, the admissions committee receives information from the Law School Admission Council’s Law School Data Assembly Service that identifies the applicant’s GPA as well as the median GPA at the applicant’s college. She said that the report can allow the admissions committee to get a general idea of potential grade inflation.

Springer believes, however, that the grading policy at Georgetown puts its graduates on roughly the same footing as most other undergraduate programs.

“Georgetown’s median GPA, as reported by LSAC in the LSDAS report, seems to be in the middle range of the median GPAs reported by other institutions,” Springer said.

Mike Schaub, executive director at the Cawley Career Education Center, does not believe the grading policy at Georgetown plays much of a role in job applications, even though 25 percent of the jobs and internships listed on Hoya Career Connection include a minimum GPA requirement.

“Most employers weight internship experiences, leadership activities, written and oral communication skills, quality of the undergraduate education, and other personal characteristics more significantly than GPA when evaluating applicants,” Schaub wrote in an email.

 

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