By Looking Out For Mediocre Students, Grade Inflation Hurts the Whole Society

By Looking Out For Mediocre Students, Grade Inflation Hurts the Whole Society

Decades ago, the quest for superior grades acquired a catchphrase—the “paper chase.” Those who aspired to be the best students went to extreme lengths to earn superior grades. However, there were also many who wanted grades for which they were unwilling to work. Part of the university’s task was to separate the best from the mediocre.

In modern universities, the active catchphrase is “grade inflation.” Today’s students still expect high grades. Unfortunately, the “woke” administrators are incredibly comfortable with passing out grades that are little more than tuition payment receipts.

No less a tribune than The New York Times reports that “Nearly 80 percent of all grades given to undergraduates at Yale last academic year were A’s or A minuses.” According to a Yale report, that number is double the percentage of students getting A’s in 1978. Even then, Yale’s “Course of Study Committee” (CSC) opined that “the percents listed were too generous and said ‘some deflation is desirable.’”

Not Only Yale

However, that trend is not unique to Yale. The same Times article also mentioned that “At Harvard, 79 percent of all grades given to undergraduates in the 2020-21 year were also A’s or A minuses. A decade earlier, that figure was 60 percent.”

Again, the situation is familiar. In 2001, The Harvard Crimson detailed the plight of Government Professor Harvey C. Mansfield. He recognized the dilemma but was unwilling to abandon standards totally. So, the Harvard ‘53 graduate and long-established professor gave each student two grades—the one the student had earned and the inflated one that would go on the student’s transcript.

“’[Educators] seem to believe that the main purpose of education is to give students self-esteem, to make them feel good about themselves and give students the same grades they got in high school,’ said Mansfield. ‘In no other walk of life would you say that nearly one-quarter of practitioners are worthy of A’s… Nobody who knows anything about grades gives anything as generous as that which the Harvard Faculty gives.’”

So, even though universities and their professors have known about the problem for at least fifty years, the situation continues to deteriorate.

A Professional Minefield

Liberty Vittert, an opinion contributor to The Hill (and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate), offers her view of the issue behind the issue.

“Professors hand out A’s right and left. This is not because it gives their students a leg up in the job market or because our bosses at big universities require it, but because it is just so much safer.”

Low grades—a B or less—generate complaining e-mails from upset students and their parents. These require carefully thought-out justifications, which often consume more time than it took to compile the grade. However, in the eyes of the complainers, nothing short of abject surrender will do. Continued resistance on the professor’s part can easily result in charges of racism, sexism or any other convenient epithet. If that doesn’t work, there are always justifications related to stress or other mental difficulties. Any of these conditions can lead to intervention by the school’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) officers.

The Hill column concludes, “The fight to give fair grades is just too much of a pain in the neck, and way too risky, for a mere lone professor to face.”

Who is Hurt by Grade Inflation?

Some may argue that grade inflation causes no harm. The students still get the same number of college credits regardless of grade. The professors suffer no adverse economic or professional consequences. The administrators face fewer issues with disgruntled students and parents. Those who pay the bills—parents, students or the student loan program—are satisfied. It is a win-win-win-win, right?

However, epidemic grade inflation has significant consequences that are unfortunately hard to quantify.

First, there is a loss of learning. The university’s primary raison d’être is to pass on knowledge to the next generation of society’s leaders. Many tears in the nation’s social fabric can be traced to college-educated social justice radicals who know little about the present crisis. Much ignorance reflects an inability to compromise or reason with those with whom they disagree. A system of rule of law or merit is threatened by a grade inflation system where temper tantrums carry the day over knowledge and reason.

Promoting Equality over Knowledge

Second, university degrees, which serve as the credentials for a better life, become devalued. The value of the degree is based upon a kind of authority. The presumably wise professors and administrators attest that the young man or woman bearing the degree has mastered the information and ideas of their field of study. Furthermore, those with higher grades can be assumed to have learned more than their colleagues with lower grades. Therefore, the firms, businesses and agencies that hire these people can rest assured that they will be assets to those organizations.

However, if every graduate has an unbroken string of high grades, there is no standard by which potential employers (or anyone else) can evaluate the graduates.

Such a system dovetails nicely into the overall goals of the left. In their worldview, any rules dividing people into superior and inferior groups are anathema. The materialist and Marxist creeds to which leftists bend the knee are based upon radical equality. The very existence of college degrees enforces a hierarchy that acknowledges that a relative few can accomplish tasks—for instance, surgery or serving as a legal advisor—which the majority cannot. Therefore, the committed leftist could argue that devaluing such degrees advances equality. It also rewards mediocrity.

Such equality may fit into Marxist ideology, but any society that takes it seriously must fail.

Article first published on the American TFP website:

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