The Corner


Yes, Grade Inflation Is the Explanation

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Writing at Forbes, my good friend Rich Vedder gives me a hat tip for bringing a new paper to his attention, then he proceeds to discuss its findings. The paper is about the appearance that American college students are learning more because graduation rates have been rising. But are they really learning more?

The authors conclude that the appearance is misleading. American students are more likely to finish college because college is much easier than it used to be. High grades are easy to get, and it’s easy for students to avoid tough courses where they’ll earn a low grade if they don’t learn difficult material. On the whole, they spend considerably less time studying than in the past but receive much higher grades.

Professors who insist on grading strictly rather than rewarding students just for showing up on occasion find themselves in hot water with administrators, who care mainly about keeping students happy, enrolled, and most important of all, paying. Colleges pay lip service to “academic excellence,” but few really mean it.

Therefore, we get more and more students graduating even though many have learned little of value since their first day on campus. The glut of people holding college credentials has led to employers deciding that those without them aren’t worth considering, which in turn lures still more into college in a quest not for learning, but for a piece of paper.

Higher education’s cheerleaders say that the U.S. is so wealthy because we “invest” so much in college education. The truth is the other way around. Only a very wealthy country could afford to have an education system that costs so much and delivers so little.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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