American grade inflation

There may be problems at Australian universities, but this isn’t one of them.

Two critics of grade inflation have published a new analysis finding that the most common grade at four-year colleges and universities is the A (43% of all grades) — and that Ds and Fs are few and far between.

The full table of data showing the grade distribution across the American higher education system is shown in the story.

I cannot personally believe any academic system can operate in this way so find it almost impossible to believe. Employers and graduate schools must know how to get past these kinds of figures but if it then becomes personal evaluations, then the system is even further corrupted. An examination system with all its deficiencies is still the fairest way to judge students.

Via Instapundit

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24 Responses to American grade inflation

  1. Adrien

    It’s nothing to worry about.

    Thanks to years of cracked education, easy credit, healthy fast food options and a mixture of fundamentalist religion, conspiracy theories and video-clip culture, America has produced its finest generation ever.

    43%. All ‘a’s they must be really smart.

  2. Sinclair Davidson

    Added in the table.

  3. Infidel Tiger

    Must be bloody good lecturers over there.

  4. Biota

    So I guess standardising scores doesn’t happen anymore.

  5. Fred

    I know at my uni, La Trobe, the failure rate of a lot of subjects is 20-30%. Americans only have 3-5% failures. Wow.

  6. Louis Hissink

    Should not the frequency distribution be bell-shaped? These look like highly skewed distributions – must be outcome based policies.

  7. daddy dave

    This data is definitely accurate based on my experience.
    But I’m not sure why you think it’s not happening in Australia. We’re getting a chronic case of grade inflation as well. How many students fail these days?

  8. daddy dave

    Incidentally, in the US a D is almost as bad as a fail, because it can jeopardise the student’s financing arrangements, and frequently you can’t do further subjects if the D is for a pre-requisite.

  9. entropy

    So to be clear, does this mean that either:
    1. Lecturers are fudging exam results
    2. exams are too easy
    3. results are standardised, but the peak of the curve has been deliberately skewed to the upper end
    4. there are no exams, or exams are not critical to the end result, and students only need to leave an apple on the lecturer’s desk to get an A?

  10. daddy dave

    a combination of (2) and (3).
    It’s happening here too, though not quite to the same extent.

    What this means in the end is that employers devalue degrees, and the only degrees worth having will be those that carry credentials (ie you’re not allowed to work in the industry without it).

  11. JC

    My kid attended college in the US last semester and she found it incredibly interesting but much more hard going that here…. same course.

    I found it funny though how she received like 104% of a coupla essays. How on earth do you score 104 for anything?

  12. Aqualung


    Perhaps it is 100% for the essay, but you get a bonus 5% for spelling your name right. Your kid doesn’t have an ‘r’ in their name that is included in spelling, but not enunciated enough for the American ear?

    Or perhaps the tutor can’t spell.

  13. JC


    yes , it’s bonus points of course. But really no one should get 100% for an essay.

  14. daddy dave

    Thanks Andrew. So basically – if you combine D’s and F’s for the Americans, then our figures are in the same ballpark.

  15. Pingback: Grade Inflation « Organizations and Markets

  16. AJ

    The point is the top. Most Australian universities mark on a curve and even in ones that don’t, like UQ, HDs are rare. It is common in the US for people to graduate with 4.0 GPAs. GPAs lower than 3.5 are considered problematic. Whereas I don’t think a single person in my degree got a perfect 7, and only a hand full of people got honours I, i.e 6.2+.

  17. AJ is right. It’s very difficult to get an HD, or a GPA higher than 6.2 (which gets you a First), at least at UQ. There are lots of 2.2s and Pass degrees, however. In the UK, you get a different distribution: it’s even harder to get a First, but no-one gets a Pass (called a ‘Third’ over here). 2.2 is problematic, and often means good graduate programs are closed to you. 2.1 is what employers tend to look for.

    An aside: while at Oxford, I did some tutoring. Some of the students I taught were from a noted American university with which we had an exchange. We (those tutoring among the US contingent) were all warned that we would have students in our offices in tears if they got anything less than an A-. Problem was, most of them were the equivalent of an Oxford ‘C’, which is a decent grade (‘credit’ would be the Australian equivalent). Their expectations led to no end of difficulties.

    British marks (in the Russell Group, at least) are very hard to figure out, however. I have won two academic prizes (one at Oxford, one at Edinburgh) with results in the low to mid 70s. The Oxford paper in particular was one of the best I’ve ever written. I don’t see what was gained by awarding it a ’75’.

  18. Sinclair Davidson

    I once failed an American exchange students…

  19. conrad

    “Most Australian universities mark on a curve and even in ones that don’t, like UQ, HDs are rare”

    This is very context dependent. I have a good idea of what the 4th year overall marks are from universities in Aus in my area, and there are some that give essentially all of their students HDs (i.e., 1st class Honors). I doubt any give much less than 30% HDs. Things are certain to inflate more also — the problem now is the rules for government scholarships for postgraduate stuff now even taken into account 2nd year marks, so if you don’t give high marks out you are penalizing your students compared to those at other universities. No-one wants to do this.

  20. I wonder how much of this is driven by not wanting to fail too large a proportion of students from “disadvantaged backgrounds”?

  21. Kevin Benko

    I’m 46 years-old, and I have just received my second degree (I earned my first degree in 1994). It was a waste of my time and money (I paid my tuition out of pocket) to have returned for that second degree. The quality of my high school education, from 1982, was of higher quality than what I received in my second degree.
    The US, so-called, “higher education” system is nearly worthless. I wonder when the rest of the world will realize that a US education isn’t worth the cost.

  22. Peter Patton


    They are bell-shaped; within A- the median.

  23. Peter Patton

    In Australia, it is the competition for government PhD scholarships – APAs – that strikes me as the cause of grade inflation. In 2011, a 1st Class Honours degree does not guarantee an APA, which compared to even 20 years ago is scandalous.

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