College grade inflation has been going on for what seems like forever. Actually, between 1920 and 1960 there was virtually none. But it started moving up at an ever-increasing rate in the 1960s and by the 1970s was on a roll.
By John A. Schwarz
College grade inflation has been going on for what seems like forever. Actually, between 1920 and 1960 there was virtually none. But it started moving up at an ever-increasing rate in the 1960s and by the 1970s was on a roll. Since 1980, it has been a case of “Katie bar the door.” If, for some reason, you’ve been mesmerized watching The Weather Channel or spending an inordinate amount of time listening to “Dr. Phil,” you’ll be stunned to learn what has occurred since the Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980.
In the 1950s, many were satisfied with what were referred to as “the Gentleman ‘C’”. You didn’t exactly feel that you were knocking the ball out of the park, but it was okay. You knew, with those grades, that you had a decent chance to go on to be successful in whatever endeavor you chose to pursue after graduation. If you had a friend or two who were “B” students, you were impressed and wondered how they did it and yet remained very normal guys. But “D’s” were a problem and “F’s” were fatal, so much so that the recipient, after accumulating a few, inevitably got the boot by the institution.
I don’t think “F” is a grade given out by colleges any longer. Rumor has it that last person to receive an “F” in America was at UNLV [University of Nevada Las Vegas] in 1992. Pity the poor few who receive “D’s.”
I never knew, nor wanted to know, anybody who was an “A” student. I always assumed that if you wanted to find one they’d be huddled over a book in the library and probably not a million laughs.
Today, “A” stands for Average. I’m [a] not kidding, and [b] will give you some numbers to prove my point. In 1955, both private and public university student bodies had a “C” average, roughly a 2.5 GPA. By 2012, the average GPA at public universities had risen to 3.0, and 3.4 at private universities. Leading the pack are Duke, Harvard, and Dartmouth. At Harvard, the grade most commonly awarded is an “A-”. Only 4% of students in universities now have a “C” average or lower. In many cases, over 40% get an “A-” or better. Another way to look at it is that students who had “C” averages at Duke in the 1950s would today be “A” students. We needn’t dwell on what grades the tiny minority who were “A” students in the 50s would receive today. They’d probably be given their diploma after three semesters.
I can’t begin to tell you how gratifying it is to realize that I was an “A” student all along. I just didn’t discover it until 2014.