Grades at universities have been going up, up, up and show no signs of stopping. Guh. From an article in Inside Higher Ed:
Since the 1960s, the national mean G.P.A. at the institutions from which he’s collected grades has risen by about 0.1 each decade – other than in the 1970s, when G.P.A.s stagnated or fell slightly. In the 1950s, according to Rojstaczer’s data, the mean G.P.A. at U.S. colleges and universities was 2.52. By 2006-07, it was 3.11.
Though there’s “not a simple answer as to why we grade the way we do,” Rojstaczer speculated on several reasons why mean G.P.A.s have increased. One factor, he said, is that faculty and administrators “want to make sure students do well” post-graduation, getting into top graduate schools and securing jobs of their choice. Particularly since the 1980s, “the idea that we’re going to grade more leniently so that our students will have a leg up has really seemed to take hold.”
Grades have also been pushed up by “pervasive use of teacher evaluation forms,” Rojstaczer said. “You can tell a professor that grading easy has no impact on their evaluations … and there are many arguments that say that’s the case, but the perception is that it does, so professors behave in a certain way,” giving higher grades to their students than they might if there were no evaluation forms. (This might prove especially true at institutions with high proportions of adjuncts, who are particularly vulnerable to losing teaching assignments if they don’t receive high student evaluations.)
Another possible reason: students’ expectations. At private institutions, students are consumers expecting that their diplomas and transcripts be worth what they (or their parents) have paid for them. At more selective institutions, students enter with ever-higher high school G.P.A.s and “you don’t want the student to come to your office in tears for a B or C,” Rojstaczer said.