Sitting nervously on your chair, you wait for your professor to hand you back your midterm. You wonder how you did and whether you survived grade deflation this time. You start considering what would happen if you did not get a good grade on this midterm: a lower GPA, no internships, no job prospects. You probably never consider that the value of the knowledge you have accumulated is more important than the grade you have received. How can you, with most employers and graduate schools placing such a heavy emphasis on college grades?
I had never encountered grade deflation or grade inflation before coming to Wellesley. At my high school, we had a centralized grade system that dictated the grade a student must receive based on the percent she got on her test or her paper. If you got above a 91.5 percent on your test, you received an A. If you got above 80.5 percent, you received a B. Every student knew the level of preparedness necessary to achieve the desired grades. Professors could not decide that the A for their class would start at a higher percentage just because there were too many excellent marks.
The most serious problem associated with grade deflation is the way students view their college learning experience. Imagine my surprise when I came to Wellesley and learned that one of the most common topics on campus is grade deflation. What struck me is that many students are more obsessed with the grade curve than with the knowledge they gain from class. Before coming to Wellesley, I thought that in college the focus would be shifted from getting a certain grade, like it was in high school to learning the material. Grade deflation prevents students from seeing the real value of education.
While Wellesley has implemented an official grade deflation policy, other more famous universities not only have refused to do so, but also have engaged in grade inflation. For example, the average student grade at Harvard University is A-. The absence of a grade deflation policy at other institutions means that Wellesley students are competing with students that graduate from more famous universities with a higher GPA. It is not surprising that this results in a lot of pressure and frustration for the Wellesley population.
Another issue that is a result of grade deflation is that students are disincentivized to pursue majors in the social sciences — the spheres where grade deflation affects most people. A study conducted by economics professors Kristin F. Butcher, Patrick J. McEwan and Akila Weerapana showed a substantial decline of 30 percent in enrollment for courses in these departments. There is a sound logic behind their decisions; if you see that you will have a lower GPA, you are more likely to give up what you want to study if you are confident you can graduate with a higher GPA in another major. Grade deflation can have a detrimental effect on students’ pursuing their passion.
I am certainly not an advocate for grade inflation. I am not proposing that professors should start giving higher grades to students just so that the latter can perform better on the job market. I am saying, however, that there should be a comprehensive evaluation system that does not prevent students from receiving A’s just because there are already too many excellent students at Wellesley. Grade deflation often results in students giving up majoring in social sciences, applying to jobs they may wish to pursue and fearing their GPA is not good enough compared to students from other schools with grade inflation policies like Harvard. It is high time Wellesley College gave value to the grade a student earns.