Midterms are coming up at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Some may have already happened. But an issue has been brewing within CU’s Leeds’ School of Business that might make students look at their BCOR tests a little differently.
In recent years, ‘grade inflation’ has become a hot button topic and a point of contention amongst students and college administrators. An article that appeared in The Atlantic on January 2015 argued that grade point averages are generally increasing while literacy is stagnant, and has been for some time. Private colleges, particularly the Ivy league schools, have abandoned and actively combated the practice, leading to a practice known as “grade deflation.”
While that practice doesn’t happen specifically in the Leeds School of Business, a set of “guidelines” given to professors in the college outlines a similar idea. Recently, articles have appeared in area news outlets about students speaking out against this concept, and the university has responded, citing that the practice isn’t an enforced policy (it isn’t a policy at all, by definition).
What is grade deflation?
This is a term used to describe the process of artificially lowering grades, and is almost always utilized to combat grade inflation. According to the Daily Princetonian, the student newspaper of Princeton University, the grade deflation policy that was struck down by faculty in 2014 ‘mandated that no more than 35 percent of grades awarded by each department could fall in the A range’. The policy was originally enacted due to the perceived “rampant” grade inflation occurring at the school, where 47 percent of grades were reported as A’s between 2001-2004.
Though most universities have ended the practice in the last decade, the concept still persists, but as guidelines instead of enforced policies. That is the case at the Leeds School of Business. In 2009, the school decided to establish a concrete grading structure, with quick results. Average GPAs tumbled in the next two years, bottoming out at just under 2.85 in the fall of 2010. After the policy was disbanded and downgraded to guidelines after the spring of 2011, average GPAs shot back up almost a tenth of a point.
The debate at CU
As of fall 2015, the average grade at Leeds was a 3.1, and just over 30 percent of all grades were As. Since the spring of 2012, GPAs have never dropped below 3.0. But some students still believe they are at a disadvantage as long as the guidelines are in place.
Amberly Grant, a student at Leeds, has been an advocate of adopting a more free-market approach to grading, as opposed to having a set of guidelines that can restrict classes that might have a group of exceptional students. The guidelines currently in place at Leeds are as follows: no more than 15 percent of A-minus or above in 1000-and 2000-level classes, no more than 25 percent in 3000, and no more than 35 percent in 4000.
“To use this old-world thinking of it makes us look like a prestigious school doesn’t really work because the prestigious schools don’t do this anymore,” Grant contends. “We go into the job market and our grades are lower and that can affect us getting jobs.”
The assertion has been that keeping grades low helps the school look more rigorous to publications and agencies that rank universities. But Leeds administrators don’t necessarily agree with the idea that lower grades has a meaningful impact on where the college ranks.
Al Smith, the associate dean for undergraduate affairs at the school, says that the grading guidelines don’t have a direct impact on ranking, and believes that it is a misperception by students.
“We are about on par with the national average of what grades given out are,” explains Smith. “We aren’t way off the mark.”
Data given to the CU Independent appears to back the claims of Leeds, since the grade point average at the college has steadily increased since spring 2012, with one exception: There was a drop between fall 2013 and fall 2014. The average A percentage has also steadily increased, showing a spike in the last year, while average C percentage simultaneously drops. But it should be noted that these numbers are essentially on par with what Leeds had before the grading policies were put into effect in 2009.
Looking to the future
But the debate goes further than a couple of marks on an exam, and students sometimes worry that Leeds’ desire to keep even grading hurts them in the job market. Grant simply wants to see a less restrictive set of guidelines, one that doesn’t require a base mark for giving lower grades.
“It shouldn’t be take what we can get, us vs. them,” Grant explains. “It should be to create a better school and a better program. If anything, it’s just getting rid of the 35 percent of people have to get a C or below, because 35 percent of people shouldn’t have to almost fail.”
Smith says that the guidelines are at the discretion of the faculty, and they can either adhere strictly by it or be liberal with their judgements. For 1000-and-2000-level classes, it is suggested that at least 35 percent of the class earn a C or below. Whether or not the faculty exercises their own judgement, the average spring and fall GPA of those lower division BCOR classes are 2.87, a little under three-tenths of a point lower than the average grade point of Leeds students.
But the average grade number does increase as the years go on, with almost all 3000-and-4000-level classes in the last year posting average grades above 3.0.
“What the employers are looking at is the quality of product,” Smith argues. “One variable is the grade but the other is the professional development and preparation and that’s where I think the whole Leeds brand comes into play.”
“You have to have a 3.0 for most recruiters to want you,” Grant counters. “They are trying to get leaders at Leeds and being leaders means we have to stand up for our rights and stand up for others. We can work together [with the administration] and not battle.”
For now, the grading guidelines remain, and the average GPA has steadily been increasing at the Leeds School of Business since the policies were downgraded four years ago.