Wellesley College is known for its rigorous academics and competitive atmosphere. The students who come here have been selected from a pool of the most driven and intellectually-gifted applicants. While new students are constantly reminded of the steep learning curve they will face here, most are unaware of one of the greatest academic challenges at Wellesley: grade deflation. Grade deflation is the school-wide policy that stipulates that 100- and 200-level classes with 15 students or more must have a class average GPA of 3.33, or a B+. The deflation policy, which was started in 2004, was enacted to cut down on the amount of A’s that are given, which was a result of the hyper-inflation of grades over the past few decades. In addition, the college believed that implementing grade deflation would yield a more accurate representation of a student’s academic caliber and make a Wellesley degree more valuable. However, this policy is severely problematic in practice because it encourages competition between students and hurts students’ prospects after graduation. Wellesley’s grade deflation policy also systematically disadvantages Wellesley students, all of whom are of marginalized genders, against students from other colleges and universities, which makes it a sexist and gendered policy.
Students are acutely aware of grade deflation in most of their classes. Many lament the policy, which they see as actively lowering their GPAs. Students know that there technically isn’t a cap on how many A’s can be given, but they are also aware that in a large class, only a few students will receive A’s in order to comply with the policy. This mentality causes a highly-competitive environment which does not fuel a collaborative learning process. Under the policy, it is not within a student’s best interest to help other classmates succeed. Students are motivated to focus on their own grades rather than to cultivate a wealth of knowledge. In addition, the policy exacerbates the stress culture that already exists at Wellesley and puts a strain on everyone’s social lives. While one of the best qualities of Wellesley students is their ability to collaborate and be generous with their skills, students aren’t rewarded for helping one another, even though it is important to do so in the workforce.
Students are also put under unnecessary stress as they wonder what their grade will be. Some professors are more open about their grading policy and how deflation impacts it, while others are not. Professors are mandated to provide a grade breakdown, but it is often unclear how these numbers will eventually translate into a final letter grade. Instead of concentrating on the material itself and fostering important relationships with professors, students are increasingly focused on what their final grade will end up being. Students should be encouraged to engage in challenging material and to explore their interests during all four years at Wellesley, rather than only during their first semester when shadow grading means that grade deflation has no bearing.
Grade deflation is most detrimental to students when they are seeking opportunities after Wellesley. Certain jobs require applicants to have a minimum GPA, so students who would have had a higher GPA without deflation are barred from certain opportunities that they are qualified for. As a whole, Wellesley students have lower GPAs than students from other schools, and when recruiters process applications, they are more likely to take a student with a higher GPA, even with the letter of explanation that Wellesley’s Registrar often includes with applications. How can Wellesley students be expected to compete with our counterparts from other schools who, on average, will have higher GPAs? While Wellesley first implemented this policy to counter the growing trend of grade inflation, it fails to realize that we are competing with these grade inflated students for the same job positions and graduate school admissions. Since employers and graduate schools do not consider such policies when comparing Wellesley students to candidates from other institutions, it leaves Wellesley students at a distinct disadvantage, and Wellesley students are already disadvantaged to due their marginalized genders. While the administration may have intended to address the issue of grade inflation, it needs to recognize this reality and not single handedly try to fix a nation-wide problem by disadvantaging its students. Wellesley must accept that its students are already top performers and shouldn’t seek to mask that performance in favor of deflated grades.
While ideally Wellesley would do away with grade deflation, this obviously cannot happen overnight. In the meantime, it would be beneficial to make it more acceptable for professors to deviate from the 3.33 class average. For instance, if a professor’s class average is above a 3.33, they must fill out a form explaining why this occurred. Professors should not be concerned about their class average possibly impacting their ability to secure tenure in the future.
Although the administration may not have intended for grade deflation to have these effects, it is obvious that the current implementation of the policy is not working. Wellesley should ultimately rethink this policy as a whole, but at the minimum, it should provide solutions to the current problems that students face as a result of the policy. Wellesley students are exceptional, and the college must be committed to helping students reach their full potential, both at Wellesley and beyond.