If So Many Students Are Getting A’s, Why So Many Remedial Education Courses?

A History of College Grade Inflation
We’ve written before about some of the work of Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy, grade inflation chroniclers extraordinaire. They have put together a new, comprehensive study of college grading over the decades, and let me tell you, it is a doozy.

The researchers collected historical data on letter grades awarded by more than 200 four-year colleges and universities. Their analysis (published in the Teachers College Record) confirm that the share of A grades awarded has skyrocketed over the years. Take a look at the red line in the chart below, which refers to the share of grades given that are A’s:

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Most recently, about 43 percent of all letter grades given were A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. The distribution of B’s has stayed relatively constant; the growing share of A’s instead comes at the expense of a shrinking share of C’s, D’s and F’s. In fact, only about 10 percent of grades awarded are D’s and F’s.

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Colleges Handout An Abundance of A’s
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 percent of all grades) — and that Ds and Fs are few and far between.

Further, by comparing historical data to contemporary figures, the authors charge that there has been an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988 in the percentage of As awarded in higher education.

The study was published Wednesday in Teachers College Record and was conducted by Stuart Rojstaczer, a retired professor of geology, civil engineering and the environment at Duke University, and Christopher Healy, an associate professor of computer science at Furman University. For their study, they collected historical data from 200 four-year colleges and universities and contemporary data from 135.

While they found As widespread in every sector and region, they also found differences, Private colleges tend to be more generous on grades than do public institutions with similar levels of selectivity. As appear to be more difficult to come by at some less-selective colleges and universities and at Southern institutions. Rojstaczer and Healy write that the abundance of As is a real problem.

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