Shelter from the Storm

I often overhear things around campus that I ?wish I hadn’t.

For example, last week as I sat waiting for the professor to show up and start class, I overheard a troubling conversation taking place behind me, the particulars of which I will share in a moment.

First, some context. Two students were discussing a class they were taking together, taught by a professor they seemed to rather dislike, in a subject that they evidently cared little about. A freshly graded essay was the topic, and it was spurring more heat than the steaming Starbucks lattes embellishing their desks.

The general consensus between these students was that the grades they had received were unfair for the time they had put in. “Two hours” was one student’s estimate of the total time she invested, while the other student spitefully described their professor as “insane.” In regards to their efforts going forward, ?giving up was their settled upon strategy.

This essay assignment – which no doubt was, like, “so hard” – posed a serious issue for these two undergrads: it was (seemingly) challenging. Moreover, the professor’s assessment of the students’ work was obviously in stark contrast with their own appraisals. But why, I wondered, would these two students ?simply respond by “giving up?”

 While the two continued to complain about their “insane” professor, I pondered how ridiculous I could make myself look by turning around to suggest they take some time to visit their professor at their office and  possibly discuss their assignment. ?Surely, I’d be a laughing stock.

Certainly there are professors here, there and everywhere who cause students grief. A student can’t possibly be expected to love every teacher they come across. But my experience in college has led me to believe that success is mostly a result of how much you care, and the effort you put forth to get the grade you desire.

 This scene is indicative of a general laziness entirely too common in today’s average college student, and it is overwhelming our academic culture. This issue, which is not specific to St. John’s, I blame partially on the epidemic of grade inflation – a nationally growing trend that is slowly warping the expectations of college students. In fact, it is the reason that former Duke professor Stuart Rojstaczer has set up a website dedicated to detailing the research and evidence behind grade inflation in American colleges and universities throughout the past decade.

To summarily explain what Rojstaczer and many other educators feel is becoming a real problem in American education, grade inflation is the gradual increase in the amount of good grades being handed out on average.

 A few years back Rojstaczer wrote an article for the Washington Post in which he stated, “on average, grade-point averages are rising at a rate of ?about 0.15 points every decade.”

That’s a significant surge of good grades, and it’s altering the amount of work students ?are expecting to do for their shiny A.

Some feel that grade quotas are the solution to grade inflation. At Princeton in 2005 – when around 50 percent of student grades were in the A range – the university implemented an academic policy in order to combat grade inflation which stated that no more than 35 percent of a class should earn As. The university’s aim was to bring out students’ best work and be able to compare different departments on a more objective level.

These numbers are not uncommon. According to the Brown Daily Herald, 54.4 percent of all student grades at Brown last year were As. Even for an Ivy, ?this is an overwhelming statistic.

Rojstaczer’s website does a great job at illustrating this research on the national stage, showing that we are annually seeing higher and higher GPAs at both private and public institutions across our fine land. Considering the evidence, there can be no denying that grade inflation is indeed occurring in ?American colleges and universities.

Of course, there are those who will pose the following astute, yet fairly amusing, counterpoint: couldn’t grade inflation in our classrooms simply indicate a more studious, disciplined group (or generation) of students?

Unfortunately, no. An A is meant to denote work that has exceeded expectations and come close to, or reached, perfection. Is it really sensible to claim that every year across the nation a majority of students are exceeding what is expected of them, without fail? In fact, if student work is actually improving on average, shouldn’t the expectations increase with it?

 The truth is, if you’re frantic over receiving a B+ on a test you predominantly used Wikipedia to study for, grade inflation has distorted your view of schoolwork.

 The A has become something of an easy target for college students. If you do good work, an A is expected in return. It is not uncommon for an A- to be given in hopes that a student will work a little harder, when in reality their satisfactory work may actually deserve a B or C. As Rojstaczer wrote in the Post, “The data indicate that not only is C an endangered species but that B, once the popular grade at universities and colleges, has been supplanted by the former symbol of perfection, the A.”

 Tell ’em, Stuart. Here’s to hoping the two students who sit behind me in class might try harder.