Grade Inflation in Higher Education

It’s commonly believed that for decades the average grade of college students have been steadily rising.  While a grade of C is still defined as being the average grade, a C is really perceived by students and teachers alike as a poor grade today.  Where a B was once the most common grade for college students to earn, these days more college students earn A’s.  This trend in academia is known as grade inflation.

According to Stuart Rojstaczer this trend began in the in 1960’s, particular during the Vietnam era, when flunking out of college meant becoming eligible for the draft.  Some site the rise of minority students as being partially responsible for this trend, but Rojstaczer points out that grade inflation actually declined in the 1970’s and 1980’s when minority enrollment in higher education rose most sharply.

In the 1950’s public and private schools tended to give similar grades to their students, but as grade inflation began to rise in the 60’s grades given by private colleges and universities rose at a faster pace.

Alfie Kohn has written an article that takes the opposite viewpoint of Rojstaczer.  In his article, originally published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Kohn sites different data than Rojstaczer and builds a case that grade inflation is a myth.  I note that Kohn’s teaching philosophy includes a rejection of traditional evaluation through grading.

Music teachers are frequently criticized by their non-musical colleagues for giving mostly A’s.  One of my former colleagues at Adams State College, Charles Boyer, once gave a demonstration about this during a concert band performance.  He had the students play a passage mostly accurately, but missing 1 or 2 notes in 10.  The result was, of course, a very poor performance.  Charles’ point was that a performance that is only 80% accurate is unacceptable for a concert, so music teachers must demand A work from students (at least if you only define a fine performance as one with accurate notes and rhythms).

What do you think?  Are we doing our music students more harm than good when we give mostly A’s for performance classes?  Do the reduced credit hours earned for the same amount of class hours (common for ensembles in higher education) make a difference in how we should evaluate students?  Should music majors be graded on a different standard than non-music majors taking the same performance class?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.