United States

Links on Grade Inflation in the US

A list of web-based reports and commentaries on Grade Inflation in the US with URL addresses, brief descriptions and selected excerpts.

Click on the title to be taken to the webpage.

NOTE: Some links may be to subscription only sites – if you or your institution do not subscribe to the source you may be unable to access the document.

The Truth About Grade Inflation – Click Here

Bartlett, B., The Truth About Grade Inflation – Commentary, National Centre for Policy Analysis, February 3, 2003.
A general commentary on grade inflation in the US by a senior fellow at the National Centre for Policy Analysis.

“Every major university [in the US] has seen a general increase in grades for the same work. According to data Rojstaczer has collected, the average grade point average has risen by almost half a grade since 1970. At this rate, he estimates that by mid-century all grades will be A’s.”

“The problem of grade inflation is not confined to universities. According to a new study by the University of California at Los Angeles, college-bound high school students show substantially higher grades today than they did 30 years ago. In 1972, 42 percent of students entering private universities and 25 percent of those going to public universities had A averages. Today, 70 percent of the former and 53 percent of the latter have such an average.”

“One consequence is that students are discouraged from taking science courses, where the nature of the subject matter has held down grade inflation, in favor of those in the humanities, where it is rampant.”

“Another problem is that gifted students are discouraged from giving their best. Why should they when other students doing half as much work get the same grades they do? “

Clear Evidence Of High School Grade Inflation – Click Here

Clear Evidence Of High School Grade Inflation, National Centre for Policy Analysis, Daily Policy Digest, Education Issues,
Wednesday, September 2, 1998.

Based on William H. Honan, “S.A.T. Scores Decline Even as Grades Rise,” New York Times, September 2, 1998, commenting on the widening gap between Scholastic Aptitude Test scores (intended to be objective measures of ability) and grades awarded at high school, a gap that is attributed to grade inflation.

“College Board officials said yesterday that more college-bound students have A averages than a decade ago — but they score lower on their SAT exams. The situation is sufficiently troubling to executives at the College Board — the nonprofit organization that sponsors what was formerly called the Scholastic Aptitude Test — that the board is commissioning a study by Rand Corporation researchers. Officials blame the trend on grade inflation by high school teachers.”

Grade Inflation Comes to College Campuses

Grade Inflation Comes to College Campuses, National Centre for Policy Analysis, Daily Policy Digest , Education Issues / Higher Education issues Friday, February 08, 2002. A commentary on grade inflation particularly in the Ivy League Universities in the US based on the Editorial, “Ivy League Grade Inflation,” USA Today, February 8, 2002.

“Grade inflation at the high-school level is a well-documented phenomenon. But it has now graduated to Ivy League colleges, education specialists report.

  • Fewer than 20 percent of all college students receive grades below B-minus, according to a study released this week by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • For example, Harvard University undergrads earning A’s rose from 22 percent of students in 1966 to 46 percent in 1996 — with 82 percent of seniors in 1996 graduating with honors.
  • At Princeton University in 1973, 31 percent of all grades were A’s — rising to 43 percent in 1997 — and only 12 percent of all grades that year were below the B range.”

SAT Scores and Grade Inflation

SAT Scores and Grade Inflation, National Centre for Policy Analysis, 1997. A commentary on the rising tide of high grades in school not matched by Scholastic Aptitude Test scores based on Mary Beth Marlein, “SAT Scores Up, But so is Grade Inflation,” USA Today, and William H. Honan, “SAT Math Scores Improve, But Verbal Results Stay Flat,” New York Times, both August 27, 1997

“College Board officials are warning of a rising tide of grade inflation, even as they report that high school students taking the Scholastic Assessment Test this year continued to improve their math scores. Easy grading by teachers in secondary schools, they said, is “still a problem.”
The officials said that since 1987 the proportion of students with an A average rose from 28 percent of test-takers to 37 percent. However, the combined SAT verbal and math scores of A students taking the SAT dropped 14 points over the same period.”

Ivy League Grade Inflation

Ivy League Grade Inflation, National Centre for Policy Analysis, 1998. A commentary on grade inflation in the Ivy League Universities based on “Just Because the Grades Are Up, Are Princeton Students Smarter?” published in New York Times, February 18, 1998

“Grade inflation in college is not a new phenomenon, but some of America’s best schools are raising grades to new heights. While some college administrators are attempting to tackle the problem head-on, professors just are not cooperating.”

Grades Rise While College Test Scores Languish

Grades Rise While College Test Scores Languish, National Centre for Policy Analysis, Daily Policy Digest,
Education Issues, Wednesday, August 15, 2001. A commentary on the growing gap between ACT scores (similar to SAT) and high school grades

“Student scores on the American College Testing (ACT) Assessment have remained steady the past five years. But high schools have been reporting rising grade point averages. This disconnect reveals a growing tendency for teachers and schools to inflate grades, according to a new report from ACT.”

C’s a Thing of the Past on Report Cards

C’s a Thing of the Past on Report Cards, National Centre for Policy Analysis, Daily Policy Digest, Education Issues / Public Education Issues, Tuesday, January 28, 2003. A report on a UCLA study which found that though students study less they continue to get better grades.

“Educators admit grade inflation in the nation’s high schools has become so rampant that a C-grade is almost unheard of. According to a nationwide study by the University of California at Los Angeles, students are studying less, but being rewarded with better grades than their predecessors.”

High School Graduates Ill-Prepared for College

High School Graduates Ill-Prepared for College, Daily Policy Digest Education Issues Testing and SAT’s, Thursday, October 23, 2003. A report on how ill prepared high school students are for College despite record high grades

“Around the country, many students with stellar high school records have discovered that they don’t have all the skills to survive in college. In Georgia, for instance, four out of 10 students who earn the popular Hope Scholarships to the state’s university system lose the scholarship after they earn about 30 credits — roughly a year’s worth of work — because they can’t keep their grades up”

You Can’t Outlaw Failure

Du Pont, Pete, You Can’t Outlaw Failure, Washington Post, June 10, 2003. An article from the Washington Post by a former Governor of Delaware commenting on grade inflation in the US educational system and instancing the resistance that exists among certain sectors of the population to any form of educational testing

“Intentional grade inflation at America’s prestigious universities is the norm.”

“In 1995 the SAT was made less difficult and “re-centered” so as to raise scores by about 100 points.”

“Plumbers and pilots, surgeons and CEOs must meet standards; if students are to succeed in these and other jobs they must meet them too. Dumbing down education is a devastating approach that will constrain students’ lifetime opportunities. It is time to replace it with testing, standards, and a commitment to excellence, just what states like Florida and Texas are trying to do.”

Lowering Scholastic Test Standards

Lowering Scholastic Test Standards, National Centre for Policy Analysis, Month In Review Education August,1996. A report on the lowering of the standard in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) in the US

“Last year, the Board announced that the average score on both the mathematical and verbal tests would be “recentered” — meaning that the standards would be lowered. The latest SAT scores, announced last week, were the first to be graded on the new curve. After many years of insisting that the test was an “unchanging standard,” the average score was recalculated to reflect the results of students who took the test in 1990 — rather than by the standards of those who took the test in 1941.”

“In 1977, a blue-ribbon panel commissioned by the College Board concluded that the decline in academic achievement among American students was the result, in part, of the increased ethnic diversity of the test takers, less homework, the proliferation of nonacademic courses and grade inflation.”

SAT Made Easier

SAT Made Easier, Education Issues Daily Policy Digest, Wednesday, September 3, 1997. A commentary on the lowering of the SAT standards from an editorial, “National Testing Is No Magic Bullet,” in Investor’s Business Daily, September 3, 1997

“Education specialists are concerned that national testing run by the nation’s educational establishment might turn out to be a meaningless reform. As an example of how testing can lose its ability to measure learning, they point to the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT).
The SATs were “recentered” in 1996. Everyone’s test scores went up about 100 points. And it’s easier than before.

  • It’s now possible to miss five questions and get a “perfect” score of 1600.
  • Before recentering, 25 students at most made perfect scores, but now as many as 2,500 could.”


A web site created by Professor Stuart Rojstaczer of Duke University, now retired, documenting evidence of grade inflation in US universities

“This web site is an outgrowth of an op-ed piece that I wrote on grade inflation for the Washington Post, “Where All Grades Are Above Average” In the process of writing that article, I collected data on trends in grading from about 30 colleges and universities. I found that grade inflation, while waning beginning in the mid-1970s, resurfaced in the mid-1980s. The rise has continued unabated at virtually every school for which data are available.”

Where All Grades Are Above Average

Stuart Rojstaczer, Where All Grades Are Above Average, Washington Post, Jan 28, 2003. A university insiders view of grade inflation, its causes and it effects from a Professor at Duke University.

“A’s are common as dirt in universities nowadays because it’s almost impossible for a professor to grade honestly. If I sprinkle my classroom with the C’s some students deserve, my class will suffer from declining enrollments in future years. In the marketplace mentality of higher education, low enrollments are taken as a sign of poor-quality instruction. I don’t have any interest in being known as a failure.”

“Today’s classes, as a result, suffer from high absenteeism and a low level of student participation. In the absence of fair grading, our success in providing this country with a truly educated public is diminished. The implications of such failure for a free society are tremendous.”

Grade Inflation: The Current Fraud

Donald M. Thomas and William L. Bainbridge, Grade Inflation: The Current Fraud. Effective School Research. January 1997.
An article describing how an audit of general school effectiveness (in the US) based on a variety of measures found that those school with the highest student grades were the lowest in terms of overall effectiveness.

“After conducting a large number of audits, the auditors were amazed to find that some grade inflation was apparent in most schools. What was unexpected was that the highest amount of grade inflation existed in the lowest achieving schools.”

“The conclusion can be drawn that in low achieving schools with high grade point averages, expectations are extremely low—just the opposite of what research indicates should be done. Having low expectations begets low achievement. The fraud is that the high grade point average gives a FALSE message to the students. Schools which expect little and provide high grades, regardless of the level of academic achievement, are fraudulent educational systems and should be corrected”


The web site for a campaign to end grade inflation in higher education in the US containing lots of information, proposals for action and links.

“Welcome to The Initiative to End Grade Inflation in higher education. The Initiative is a grass roots organization dedicated toward restoring validity to the academic transcript through honest presentation of student academic performance.”

Evaluation and the Academy

Henry Rosovsky (Harvard University) and Matthew Hartley (University of Pennsylvania), Evaluation and the Academy: Are We Doing the Right Thing? Grade Inflation and Letters of Recommendation, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2002. An academic report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences detailing and discussing the extent of grade inflation in US higher education over the last several decades.

“…there is overwhelming evidence that standards regarding student grading have changed substantially over time.” (p.2-3)

“Grades tend to be higher in the humanities than in the natural sciences where objective standards of measurement are enforced more easily” (p.6)
“When considered alongside indexes of student achievement, these increases in grades do not appear to be warranted.” (p.6)

“in 1991 a survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute found that only 25% of faculty felt their students were ‘well-prepared academically.’” (p.6)

“Once it starts, grade inflation and inflated letters are subject to self-sustaining pressures stemming from the desire not to disadvantage some students or colleagues without cause. This self-sustaining character eventually weakens the very meaning of evaluation: compression at the top before long will create a system of grades in which A’s predominate and in which letters consist primarily of praise. Meaningful distinction will have disappeared.” (p21)

Grade Inflation, Ethics and Engineering Education

Brian Manhire, (Ohio University), Grade Inflation, Ethics and Engineering Education, Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. A detailed paper by a Professor of Electrical Engineering at Ohio University on the causes and implications of grade inflation with an extensive list of relevant references.

“Grade inflation is ubiquitous in American higher education.” (p.1)

“Grade inflation has become a thoughtless routine convenient for professors, students, parents and administrators, in which an individual professor overgrades his students as unconsciously as a parent might spoil his children” (p.5)

“With an eye to student course evaluations and confounded by the realisation that they have somehow lost authority, professors begin from what they think students expect.” (p.6)

“Grade inflation developed partly developed because Professors graded…. according to the expectation of students based on their primary school and high school experiences that they could get high grades without working very hard.” (p.7)

“Grade inflation subverts the primary function of grades.” (p. 10)

“Professor Kamber and Biggs associate grade inflation with, inter alia, lying, social promotion, the discouragement of excellence, the concealment of failure and the loss of credibility.” (p. 11)

“…. Surely grade inflation is unethical in the sense of what is good and bad and is contrary to traditional ethical tenets concerning moral duty and obligation.” (p.12)

The Tyranny of Classroom Popularity

Thomas C. Reeves, (The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute), The Tyranny of Classroom Popularity, The National Association of Scholars (NAS) Online Forum, Friday, May 14, 2004.A commentary on grade inflation and its causes in higher education in the US.

“Grade inflation in higher education is so severe these days that the faculty at Princeton University has voted to require each academic department to limit its number of A’s to 35 percent for undergraduates and 55 percent for junior and senior independent work. Almost half of Princeton undergraduates now receive the top grade.”

“Jay A. Halfond, Dean of Boston University’s Metropolitan College, wrote recently, “Grade inflation is often symptomatic of deeper problems — laxness, low standards, lack of evaluative tools in a class, and even a lack of familiarity with one’s students. High grades might signal poor teaching.” No doubt, but don’t expect anyone, from students through university presidents, to object in a meaningful way. Why not give everyone an A? It’s a ticket to popularity, promotion, and prosperity.”

“Surely a major cause of both grade inflation and the lowering of academic standards in recent decades, especially on open-admissions campuses, is the tyranny of classroom popularity.”

Grade Inflation: It’s Not Just an Issue for the Ivy League

John Merrow, 2006, Grade Inflation: It’s Not Just an Issue for the Ivy League, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. A brief commentary on the problem of grade inflation in the US.

“Even in the UK, the Telegraph questioned whether the university degree in England was “losing its meaning” because of grade inflation.”

“I’ve interviewed a number of students on this issue. Here’s what I found: Matt Mindrum of Indiana University says he studied a total of eight hours for his four semester exams, while Parvin Sathe of New York University says he studied for 20 hours. Marc Hubbard of Colgate reports putting in about 60 hours, but another Colgate student, Bonnie Vanzler, says she studied for just 12. All four made the Dean’s List at their respective institutions.”

“These days it seems as if nearly everyone in college is receiving A’s, making the Dean’s List, or graduating with honors. What’s 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.”

Veteran of the Grade-Inflation Wars Launches a Guerrilla Offensive

Alison Schneider, At Harvard, a Veteran of the Grade-Inflation Wars Launches a Guerrilla Offensive, The Chronicle of Higher Education, – Todays News, Tuesday, February 6, 2001. An article about a Harvard Professor who gives out two grades – what he thinks the student deserves and the inflated one demanded by the University.

“Harvey C. Mansfield, known around campus as “C-minus Mansfield,” has been complaining about grade inflation since 1970, taking up the issue at faculty meetings as well as with Harvard’s president, Neil L. Rudenstine. But his concerns, Mr. Mansfield said, have been met with “total indifference” all the way down the line. ”

“Nearly 51 percent of the undergraduates at Harvard earn grades from an A to an A-minus, Mr. Mansfield noted, quoting statistics he got from the registrar. “That, to me, is untenable and scandalous.” ”

An A+ Solution to Grade Inflation

Barry A Cipra, An A+ Solution to Grade Inflation, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics News, November 16, 1998. An article describing the outcome of a challenge given to Mathematics students to devise a solution that would identify the top 10% of students from a class where the grades were highly inflated

“The MCM teams that chose the grade inflation problem were asked to devise a method for ranking students that would give the dean at ABC College some confidence in awarding generous scholarships to the “top” 10% of the class. The teams were instructed to design data sets for testing their methods and to discuss limitations of their methods.

‘If the administration seeks to accurately rank the top tier of students, it must realize that a bloated aggregate GPA from excessively lenient grading can quickly lead to a situation where no amount of calculations and statistics can recover the desired information about the intrinsic quality of the students,’ the Harvey Mudd team concludes. But there may be a mathematically better way to peg those who belong on academic probation.”

Beyond Grade Inflation: Grading Problems in Higher Education

ASHE Higher Education Report Series, Vol. 30, Issue 6, 2005, Beyond Grade Inflation: Grading Problems in Higher Education, Jossey Bass Wiley, ISBN 0787 980781. A relatively short book (120 pages) discussing the context in which grading and grade inflation takes place. It is available form Amazon.co.uk at £13.63

“The primary message of this monograph is that grading is a shared responsibility among members of the institution and external players such as accreditation bodies, state governments, and boards of trustees. Systematic work across these various groups is necessary to change the context that rewards lenient grading.”

Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education

Valen E. Johnson, 2003, Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education, Springer-Verlag New York Inc. ISBN 0387001255. A 270 page book by a Professor of Biostatics at the University of Michican, Ann Arbor, (formerly a Professor of Statistics and decision Sciences at Duke University) exploring why grade inflation is rampant in the higher education sector in the US and what implications this has for education. It is available form Amazon.co.uk at £14.42.

Grade Inflat available form Amazon.co.uk at £14.42.

Grade Inflation … Why It’s a Nightmare

George Mason University, History News Network, Grade Inflation … Why It’s a Nightmare By Jonathan Dresner,Assistant Professor of East Asian History at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo. A personal analysis and commentary by Professor Dresner of the causes and dangers of grade inflation.

“First, we have to acknowledge that grade inflation is a reality, and more pronounced in some fields than others.”

“Grade inflation has three primary causes: student culture, pedagogical culture and institutional culture.”

“The first and most obvious effect of inflated grades is that it becomes harder to use grades as a shorthand form of communication with any nuance.”

“The corollary to the disjunction [between new faculty members and students] is the breakdown of morale and collegiality which comes from struggling against what feels like constantly falling standards. New Ph.D.s trained to high levels of professionalism discover that their efforts to ‘raise standards’ are met with hostility by students (who don’t want to work that hard) and suspicion by fellow faculty (who understand the implicit criticism).”

“Finally, grade inflation has led to public dissatisfaction with educational results.”

Degraded Currency: The Problem of Grade Inflation

George C. Leef, 2003, Degraded Currency: The Problem of Grade Inflation, Washington DC: The American Council of Trustees and Alumni. A report on the problem of grade inflation published by The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit educational organisation founded in the US in 1995 “committed to academic freedom, excellence and accountability.”

“The evidence on grdae inflation leads stongly to the conclusion that, at most institutions, grades have been rising steadily.”

“Grade inflation cannot be explained away as a result of more capable students entering college.”

“Grade inflation is a very difficult problem with which to deal. It is deeply rooted in much of our academic culture, and also appears to suit the self interest of professors and students alike.”

“In short grade infalation undermines the integrity of a college education just as monetary inflation undermines a nation’s economy.”

Inflated Grades, Inflated Enrollment, and Inflated Budgets

Stone, J.E., 1995, Inflated Grades, Inflated Enrollment, and Inflated Budgets: An Analysis and call for Review at the State Level, Education Policy Analysis Archives, Vol 3, 11. An article in a peer reviewed journal describing falling standards and grade inflation in American education while public oversight bodies show little interest despite very significant monetary implications.

“The purpose of this report is to suggest that a significant but largely overlooked change in college grading standards may be responsible for the low academic standards and rapidly growing budgets recently found by the Wingspread Group on Higher Education (1993). The relationship between inflated grades, institutional priorities, budgetary control, and public higher education’s formula funding is analyzed and a call is made for examination of the problem on a state by state basis.”

“The central premise of the present report is the widely discussed concern that public higher education’s enrollment driven funding provides an incentive for increased enrollment at the expense of academic standards”

“Grade inflation is not only an academic or budgetary problem. It is a social and economic cancer.”

“Expecting that even highly professional individuals will disinterestedly adhere to academic and intellectual ideals in the face of pervasive incentives to do otherwise is unrealistic.”

“Significant change in grading practices is likely to take place only when academic standards are reinstated as the centerpiece of the academic enterprise and when faculty are encouraged to render objective and discriminating judgments regarding student performance.”