When people think of elite higher education, we think of Harvard University. But, if one academic trend is anything to go by, Harvard is turning into a joke.
A recent column in the Harvard Crimson makes it clear that the university is becoming a glorified academic daycare where every student gets a trophy or, in this case, an A. The average GPA at Harvard is now 3.8 … out of 4.0, according to Crimson data analyst Aden Barton.
That’s up from 3.3 in 1991. Are we supposed to believe that college students are just that much smarter now than decades ago?
Nope. College, even at the most elite universities, is just getting a whole lot easier. Harvard actually had to abolish the “Dean’s List” because it became such a joke that by its final year, 92% of students were receiving the “award.” The same fate may await GPAs at Harvard, seeing as, according to Barton, “if grade inflation continues at its 2021-2022 pace, for example, the average GPA of the Class of 2028 would be over 4.0.”
This phenomenon is called grade inflation, and it’s not just happening at Harvard. Research by Stuart Rojstaczer has found that grades at almost all colleges have significantly inflated in recent decades, with A’s now becoming the most common grade given out.
College is kind of a joke now TBH.
"As" are now the most common grade given out, according to research by former Duke prof Stuart Rojstaczer. pic.twitter.com/h9apIvqOHa
— Brad Polumbo 🇺🇸⚽️🏳️🌈 (@brad_polumbo) December 30, 2022
Rojstaczer theorizes that this is in part due to the increasing and exorbitant cost of college, creating an era in higher education in which “students are consumers.” When they’re paying tens of thousands of dollars each year, they feel entitled to good grades and put enormous pressure on colleges to cough them up so they can get good jobs and recoup that investment. (Of course, the flip side is that when good grades become so common, they can no longer serve that purpose!)
Universities are so desperate to keep the money flowing in that they’ll do whatever students want, including giving out A’s like candy on Halloween.
I’m a professor and can tell you that the focus and pressure on most campuses is student retention, i.e. continuing tuition revenue.
And it’s student retention at all costs including grade integrity.
— Charles Beauchamp (@DrBeauchamp) December 30, 2022
Why does all this matter?
Well, for one, it sabotages the spirit of meritocracy that has long underpinned American exceptionalism. When everybody gets A’s, there’s no real reward for those who worked hard or excelled — meaning there’s much less incentive to do so.
It also discourages risk-taking because if you by some chance get a B, it’s suddenly an enormous outlier. As Barton explains, “grade compression ultimately perverts the liberal arts education, which should center on risk-taking and pushing oneself intellectually instead of sheltering in ‘easy-A’ classes. Harvard hopes that its ‘liberal arts and sciences philosophy encourages students to step outside their comfort zone,’ but how can students ever exhibit genuine curiosity or experiment academically when the potential damage to one’s transcript is so high?”
American economic excellence and innovation have long depended on our renowned higher education system. So, its evident corruption should concern and frustrate us all — not just those of us old enough to have a few B’s on our transcripts.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.
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