You’re seeing more honors graduates the past few years

I noted this phenomenon in 2002 at the graduation of a family member. There seemed to be a high number of students graduating cum laude, magna cum laude and/or summa cum laude.

I certainly did not remember such a high percentage of graduates with honors during my stint (late 1980s) in college. Were students getting smarter or were standards being lowered?

Knowing the academic world as I do, I figured it was the standards. At the time, I thought it would be a good idea to look at graduate statistics during the last 20 years to see what percentage of students graduated with honors.

gpa-trendsStuart Rojstaczer, a retired Duke professor, has looked into the subject and has a detailed Web page about grade inflation. Rojstaczer collected data from more than 200 schools and reviewed grade point averages, which directly reflect honors status.

Grade inflation started in the 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s. Click on the image to see recent GPA trends across the country.

Do take a look at the charts and comments on Rojstaczer’s page, he found grade inflation did not occur everywhere and one very substantial set of data showed no change – even a decline – in grades. Your reader participation homework is to find out where, and post it in the comments. 😉

Thomas Reeves at the National Association of Scholars took a look at Rojstaczer’s research and has a recap.

It is no secret that grade inflation is common within contemporary academia. The extent of it, however, is known to comparatively few. One student of the topic, Stuart Rojstaczer of Duke University, recently published data showing a steady increase in undergraduate grades from 1991 to 2007. In public institutions the average GPA rose from 2.93 to 3.11. In private schools the average GPA climbed from 3.09 to 3.30.

This escalation appears more dramatic within a historical context. Rojstaczer observed that in the 1930s the average GPA at American colleges and universities was about 2.35; in the 1950s, it was about 2.52. In the turbulent 1960s, grades soared; they leveled off somewhat in the 1970s, and then began again to escalate in the 1980s. “The grade inflation that began in the 1980s has yet to end.” And this is true at all sorts and conditions of colleges and universities in both the sciences and humanities.

Walter Williams comments today

Some college administrators will tell us that the higher grades merely reflect higher-quality students. Balderdash! SAT scores have been in decline for four decades and at least a third of entering freshmen must enroll in a remedial course either in math, writing or reading, which indicates academic fraud at the high school level. A recent survey of more than 30,000 first-year students revealed that nearly half spent more hours drinking than study. Another survey found that a third of students expected B’s just for attending class, and 40 percent said they deserved a B for completing the assigned reading.

Parents with kids in college… how does this make you feel?

7 replies
  1. gillie28
    gillie28 says:

    As an adjunct lecturer at a college for 12 years, I can testify that there is a lot of pressure on faculty to pass students and give them good grades.  One reason is that students actually grade their teachers and are given "surveys" to fill in about their professors, anonymously, at the end of each semester.  And attention is paid to these results by the administration.  Another is that the places of higher learning like to be "welcoming" as their livlihood depends upon it.  This was mentioned in the article, as were some of the other reasons.

    Also, well over 90% of the students entering the college where I teach require remedial classes (not a politically correct word any more) for both English and/or math.  Students are not leaving high school prepared to enter college.  This is also because teachers pass them along (if they are problem students they don't want them to repeat the year) and little or no accountability is required of the students to perform.  Don't get me started…..

  2. SoundOffSister
    SoundOffSister says:

    When I still practiced law, my firm typically hired young attorneys directly out of law school.  I learned that many of those new associates (who, by the way, came from excellent schools) were incapable of writing even the simplest legal memo.  No theme, no coherent thought process, no understanding of sentence structure, etc.  I always wondered how they graduated from college, much less law school.  Now I know.

  3. Linda Mae
    Linda Mae says:

    Parents all expect teachers should treat their kids as if they were from Lake Wobegone – "Where all the children are above average."(Prairie Home Companion)   I can expect students to do well in grad school – they need to be strong students to get in.  The problem is in the early years where grades are inflated the most.  As a teacher of 8th graders, I found that kids would download something from their computer – not even cut and paste – put their name on it and expect me to give them a grade for it.  They were disappointed.  I found using rubrics were the best for making my standards clear.  Students then had to work to get the A or settle for a lower grade.  My vocab tests had them use some of the words in complete sentences which proved to me that they understood the word's meaning. Their book reports required that they write – I used the CAPT test literature questions.  They had one book report a month.  I was introduced as that mean teacher who made their kids do one book a month.  I didn't apologize then and I don't now – after being retired 5 years.  Kids will rise to the standard you set – it is their choice to fail – but only after you nag them enough to get the work done.  However, I do get to see some of my former students who dropped out – they return to get their GED.  They are amazed that the GED is a 7 and 1/2 hour test on 5 subject areas and includes a 250 word essay. They quickly learn that it is not seat time but whether or not they have mastered the skill and are able to demonstrate it.

  4. Bill
    Bill says:

    Is the irony here that the institutions where grades are not inflating may attract students for whom the consumer based "prestige" schools have been precluded?  Are the community college students more motivated due to life experience?  Is reality a better motivator than self esteem?

  5. Dimsdale
    Dimsdale says:

    Currently teaching as we speak at a New England College.   The inability of incoming freshmen to do any critical thinking, study, prioritize their time, and (as noted above) complete a project without considerable plagiarizing from the internet is rampant and appalling.

    I am constantly pressed for wordbanks, grade curves, extra credit assignments, study guides etc., anything that will minimize the need to actually sit down and read the text.  If they employed as much effort into studying as they did trying to get around studying, they would all pass the course.

    I blame the high schools primarily, as they are the ones responsible for preparing students for college, and seriously "drop the ball" in this endeavor.  High school graduates are generally unprepared to enter society as productive citizens.  Of course their are exceptions, but sadly, they are exceptions, not the rule.  They can't spell, write legibly or use proper grammar,  or even do simple math, and they have never been called on it.

    If you want to see really good students, look to the community colleges, where you have adults who are paying for their own educations and know the value of education when applying for jobs or looking for promotions.   No feeble excuses about missed assignments or disinterest in the topic as you see in the average college age teen.  They are interested and focused, and are usually juggling jobs and child care in addition to their schooling.

    There is nothing worse than seeing our youth turned into proles for the  state.

  6. Linda Mae
    Linda Mae says:

    May I point out that Sarah Palin was a wife, mother and worker as she spent her 5 years getting a degree.  Obama has admitted that he regretted that he wasted much of his time at Occidental/Columbia partying, drinking and doing drugs.  Palin entered college as an adult with adult responsibilities – she was committed to success.  Obama entered college as a "kid" and focused on fun.  Yet, she is the one being vilified by the liberals.  She represents millions of American woman who walked in her shoes.  That is why Charter Oak College exists. I wonder why no one has asked her to be a spokesperson for returning adults in college?  She's a role model.

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