Harvard grades are on the rise yet again

Two years after Harvard University attracted accusations of grade inflation, a letter released by Harvard Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross said grades are once again on the rise among Harvard students.

In an October 2001 investigation, the Boston Globe reported that 91 percent of Harvard undergraduates received honors upon graduation. Responding to the alleged grade inflation, Harvard altered its grading and honors policies. As a result, grades dropped during the 2001-2002 school year. But a study of the 2002-2003 grades indicated a turnaround, to the surprise of some Harvard students.

“[The report said] almost 50 percent of grades were some form of A and that strikes me as too much,” Harvard freshman Najeeb Tarazi said.

Harvard releases grading trend reports, but Yale continues to keep this information private. Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said while over time grades have increased at the University, this does not indicate the existence of inflation at the University.

“Grades run higher than they did a generation ago, that’s a fact,” Brodhead said. “Whether it is because a higher grade is now given to the same quality of work or not is very hard to establish. If the answer is yes, then we have inflation [and if not], then we have progress.”

Some Harvard students said while their university may receive more attention for its grade inflation, the problem is not particular to Harvard.

“I get the feeling that maybe Harvard’s leading the pack a little in terms of inflation, but I don’t know by how much and I don’t think there’s a huge disparity between us and other schools,” Tarazi said.

Harvard students said inflation varies from class to class. Harvard sophomore Sarah Mitchell said professors grade more liberally in more challenging classes in order to make the courses seem less intimidating.

“I would not be surprised if the grades given varied according to class size and concentration,” Harvard sophomore Danny Yagan said.

In the aftermath of the Boston Globe article, Harvard switched its 15-point grading system to the conventional 4-point system and began limiting its honors to the top 60 percent of the class.

Considering the university’s response to inflation, Harvard sophomore Tyler Brodie said he was surprised to hear that grades were on the rise. Brodie said he experienced the repercussions of the university’s efforts to decrease inflation when a professor told him his grade for a class would have been higher if the professor did not have to comply with pressures to deflate grades.

Brodhead said Yale’s current grading system does not warrant similar alterations in grading policies.

“Grades are at the discretion of instructors,” Brodhead said. “We haven’t made the institutional efforts on this that some other schools have, partly because the results have not been that impressive.”

Emily Barton ’04 said she does not feel grade inflation is an issue of concern at Yale.

“I think that my grades have been a very accurate assessment of my performance,” Barton said.

With Harvard’s campaign to reduce grade inflation, some Harvard students expressed concern over competing for jobs — or admission to graduate schools — with students from schools whose grades are inflated. But Yale President Richard Levin said graduate and professional schools consider the grading policies at undergraduate institutions in their admissions processes.

“The people deciding admissions in graduate and profession school are aware of the grade distribution,” Levin said.

At Harvard University, where grade inflation appears to be increasing after a brief reduction in 2001, about 50 percent of grades are a perfect “A.”
Cody Dashiell-Earp
At Harvard University, where grade inflation appears to be increasing after a brief reduction in 2001, about 50 percent of grades are a perfect “A.”

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