Whether it be grade inflation or deflation, the grading system at colleges across the country is often lamented by college students. In the past, Boston University has been reported to have the toughest grade deflation in the New England area. However, Harvard University is the latest institution to receive media attention for its inflationary grading.
The Harvard Crimson reported Tuesday that the median grade awarded to students at Harvard is an A-. If that is not impressive enough, the most common grade at the school is an A. Either every Harvard student is so driven that most of the undergraduate population has something close to a 4.0 grade point average, or there is some severe grade inflation going on.
When news breaks about the real quality of the education at a school as prestigious as Harvard, people go into frenzy. If a Harvard education is so respected, then how can students so easily glide through with high GPAs? Aren’t they there for the challenge? People see the Harvard institution as the type of learning environment most schools attempt to emulate, so when a near perfect education is actually flawed, it’s more embarrassing for the school.
Despite the media attention surrounding Harvard now, this story will probably blow over. People still work hard at Harvard to ace their classes, and the university’s prestige outweighs bad publicity, such as public scrutiny of their grading system. People also stop talking about scandals. Remember when 125 students were investigated for cheating on a final exam? The New York Times reported Sept. 16 dozens of students returned after their one-year suspension.
The “Harvard University” emblazoned on a diploma outweighs whether or not the student earned or was given an A.
If students are receiving A’s so unanimously, then the grading system needs to be revamped. It is safe to assume that most students worked their tails off the get into Harvard, so they know how to do well in school, but A-students need to stand out from their peers and be something special. A student should have a 4.0 GPA if they are truly the cream of the crop at their institution.
Unfortunately, it would appear that is how grade deflation came to be. Bell curves insufficiently judge students. Students that worked hard enough to achieve a high grade should not have their grade deflated because 20 other students were better. What each letter grade entails should be made explicitly clear to students.
Students need to be able to earn the grade they deserve. If every student is receiving better than a 3.5 GPA, then the institution is obviously not challenging them enough. If only a few are able to actually achieve one of the 10 A’s in a class, then the university unnecessarily deflates. Universities would rather alter a student’s grades for the sake of a curve, instead of making anything over a 90 average some form of an A, anything in the 80 average range a B, and so on.
The hardest part of school should not be the admission process; it should be getting on the Dean’s List. Grade inflation and deflation are frustrating because it either fuels privilege for already apt students, or it robs others of the grade they deserve.