The end of the semester always brings a whirlwind of anxiety for students and faculty alike. Both are caught in different cycles of grade inflation that seem to be getting worse all the time.
There are multiple causes for heightened grade expectations, including middle-school narratives about the importance of grades for future college acceptance, state-mandated testing from K-12 and a greater emphasis on SAT and ACT scores. Add that to a millennial world where every kid receives a ribbon or trophy regardless of his or her achievement at competitive events, and it’s not surprising that the concept of a C is unfathomable.
Students are forever badgering their professors with requests for higher grades regardless of their test scores or their class participation. They are skilled negotiators who have developed sophisticated techniques to get a grade increased.
Today’s professors didn’t seek advanced degrees when they were younger with the expectation of one day spending a good amount of their time haggling with 20-year-olds over grades. Their hope was to work with students in the actual pursuit of knowledge. But that is taking place less often these days as students game the system in order to maximize their grade points.
There are new pressures adding to grade inflation. Probably the most severe is coming from large and prestigious employers who now place an important emphasis on grades. Faculty members realize that if a student achieves a C in the sophomore-year principles class, his or her hopes of joining Goldman Sachs, Deloitte or McKinsey may be forever ruined — even though most college graduates who join these organizations quit after a couple of years complaining about quality of life.
Employers maintain high-status positions with students by occasionally raising their minimum grade-point average for an initial student interview. This puts more stress on professors to inflate grades to ensure that their own students are competitive with kids from other schools.
Grade inflation on college campuses is escalating at a rate close to that of the economy of Venezuela. It is going to take a consortium of leading universities and employers to study the complexity of the problem and collectively work toward a solution. It could take decades to solve.
Although grades are the currency of a college campus, it is ironic that in the world outside of academia, success is measured not with grades but with personal attributes such as firsthand knowledge, judgment and emotional intelligence. These are skills mostly learned outside of the classroom in clubs and organizations and on athletic fields.
At this time in the semester, when everyone is calculating grade points on GradTracker, I encourage students to balance their anxieties with a focus on another part of college that may be of equal importance.
Watching students present the Westhampton Distinguished Leader Award to their best friends at the senior celebration dinner a few weeks ago awakened me to the importance of relationships developed during college. These relationships are accompanied with experiences that can teach lessons never found in a traditional classroom but are invaluable to succeeding in the everyday world after college.
Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not suggesting that grades aren’t important. Every student needs to work hard and try to achieve the highest grade-point average possible. However, grades aren’t the only measurement of educational success.
So, as we enter the end of the spring 2018 semester, with all of its angst and worry about finals and grades, take a minute and reflect on another part of your college career that will be of equal, if not greater, importance once you enter the real world. Although grade inflation may distort one’s academic knowledge, there is no way to distort relationships or friendships gained during four years of college.
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Bill Bergman is an instructor in marketing at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond. Contact Bergman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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