Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Educating Brilliance?

by Matthew Denhart and Christopher Matgouranis

Today’s “everyone is a winner” culture has spilled over into higher education. Over the last several decades, there has been consistent grade inflation in American universities. CCAP has addressed this in past posts. It has been estimated that there has been at least a 0.1 percent increase in average student GPA in every decade since the 1950s. In 1991, for example, the average GPA according to was 2.93, but had risen to 3.11 by 2006.

So who cares? At first glance this seems like a minor problem considering all the issues facing higher education. Grade inflation might seem like a good deal for students, but actually they are the ones who suffer the most. Grades serve two purposes. The first purpose is to measure competence in a class or subject area and the second is to distinguish oneself from peers. Students and potential employers are given an unrealistic idea of their gained knowledge. Also, when good students attempt to get jobs or continue on to graduate school, they have more trouble distinguishing themselves from their average peers.

While grade inflation is present throughout universities, colleges of education are the most egregious offenders. Using official university grade records, has created a comprehensive database of grade distributions for entire universities and individual departments within schools. We found this data for the top 20 CCAP/Forbes 2009 Public Research Universities that have the requisite information for education departments. The chart below shows the average GPAs for all university classes juxtaposed with the GPAs from education classes. Additionally, for all university classes, 43 percent of the grades were an “A” while 80 percent of education grades were an “A.”

Here is a sample chart of education department grade distribution for the University of Washington. This chart gets the point across, but sadly charts for many other leading public schools are just as bad.

University of Washington, Education Department

Often problems in higher education are blamed on a poor K-12 system. However, in a Catch-22 scenario, it may be that the colleges of education are harming the K-12 system by providing poorly trained teachers who then educate the next generation of mediocre college students. In this way, grade inflation hampers the entire education system.

It could be that students taking these courses are far more brilliant than average university students. The problem with this argument is that, at least at our university, data show that entering education majors by all measures (ACT, SAT, high school GPA and class rank) are below the entering class average. Most shocking, the average high school GPA for education majors was 3.35 while their college GPA in education courses was a 3.77. Universities are supposed to be more rigorous, but this data suggests that standards are lower in college, especially in colleges of education.

All of those shocking statistics are just an initial analysis. CCAP thinks that this is a topic that warrants a much deeper investigation. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Gathers said...

Does grade inflation influence retention and graduation rates? If not, Why?