Grade inflation lives at Harvard University. The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, has reported that the median grade at Harvard College is now an A- and students most frequently get A’s.
The news was delivered by Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris on Tuesday. The paper reported in this story by Matthew Q. Clarida and Nicholas P. Fandos that:
Harris delivered the information in response to a question from government professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 at the monthly meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
“A little bird has told me that the most frequently given grade at Harvard College right now is an A-,” Mansfield said during the meeting’s question period. “If this is true or nearly true, it represents a failure on the part of this faculty and its leadership to maintain our academic standards.”
Harris then stood and looked towards FAS Dean Michael D. Smith in hesitation.
“I can answer the question, if you want me to.” Harris said. “The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-. The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A.”
Harris said after the meeting that the data on grading standards is from fall 2012 and several previous semesters.
The Crimson said further that the news supports “suspicions that the College employs a softer grading standard than many of its peer institutions.”
At Harvard, concerns about grade inflation are nothing new. In 2001, Harvard data showed that 49 percent of undergraduate grades were A’s in 2001, up from 23 percent in 1986, according to this New York Times story, which also reported that Harvard grades rose as much from 1930 to 1966 as from 1967 to the present. In fact, a 1984 Harvard report warned that students were getting too many A’s and B’s.
Harvard isn’t the only school that hands out a lot of A’s, though. A 2012 study in the Teachers College Record by Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy found that “A’s represent 43% of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988.” Private colleges and universities give more top grades than public institutions with equal student selectivity, it said.
Does it matter? Given that, the study says, “college grades can influence a student’s graduation prospects, academic motivation, postgraduate job choice, professional and graduate school selection, and access to loans and scholarships,” the answer is yes.