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ERIC Number: ED498995
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2004-Jun
Pages: 3
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
Grade Inflation: It's Not Just an Issue for the Ivy League. Carnegie Perspectives
Merrow, John
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
These days it seems as if nearly everyone in college is receiving A's, making the Dean's List, or graduating with honors. What is more interesting is that college students in general are spending fewer hours studying, while taking more remedial courses and fewer courses in mathematics, history, English, and foreign languages. Students everywhere report that they average only 10-15 hours of academic work outside of class per week and are able to attain "B" or better grade-point averages. In a study for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, former Harvard Dean Henry Rosovosky found that in 1950 about 15 percent of Harvard students got a B+ or better: today, it is nearly 70 percent. Last year 50 percent of the grades at Harvard were either A or A-, up from 22 percent in 1966, and 91 percent of seniors graduated with honors. Eighty percent of the grades at the University of Illinois are A's and B's, and 50 percent of Columbia students are on the Dean's List. If today's college students were smarter or better prepared, that would explain the higher grades, but that does not seem to be the case. Over the last 30 years, SAT scores of entering students have declined, and fully one-third of entering freshmen are enrolled in at least one remedial reading, writing or mathematics course. Neither do students seem to be working harder. The assumption behind most college courses is that students will spend two hours studying for every hour they spend in class, but that is rarely the case. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) reveals that not even 15 percent of students come close to this mark. Merrow advocates in favor of "engagement," genuine involvement in courses and campus activities, leading to "deep learning," or learning for understanding, and is very different from just memorizing stuff for the exam and then forgetting it. In today's society, the writer says, the need to educate for understanding has never been more important and is as critical in community college as in the Ivy League. What should students be learning, and what kinds of learning matter most? What kinds of teaching and student interaction promote "deep learning"? Can that learning be measured? What is the evidence? As basic as it sounds, few institutions in America can answer these questions with any certainty. Some in higher education are trying to get a handle on what really happens in the classroom. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) looks at the classroom activity which is known to enable significant learning, while the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) directly measures student learning and the "value added" of each campus. Both are challenging ranking systems as measures of college quality. There is also the issue of educational purpose: whether or not students and faculty have common goals. It appears that there is still much work to be done to reclaim the priority of undergraduate teaching and learning on American campuses.
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 51 Vista Lane, Stanford, CA 94305. Tel: 650-566-5102; Fax: 650-326-0278; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Opinion Papers
Education Level: Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Menlo Park, CA.
Identifiers - Assessments and Surveys: National Survey of Student Engagement