As Yale students return from Thanksgiving break and enter the last weeks before finals, there is at least one thing for which almost all are grateful at one time or another — grade inflation.
Of course, occasionally welcoming an academic “get out of jail free” card does not necessarily mean that one condones the fundamental nature of grade inflation, but it at least implies that the system is appreciated, if perhaps exploited.
The arguments against grade inflation are simple and oft-repeated, especially by those who passed through colleges when the standards were not quite so lax. Easing standards and raising grades across the board diminishes the credibility of standardized evaluations and complicates selection processes for those drawing from the pool of college graduates.
Employers and graduate school admissions officers are likely to deflate tacitly grades from places like Yale, which causes concern among many students. They wonder if their grades are being deflated too much or if taking classes with deflationary professors will cause their grades to be doubly deflated.
At Harvard, officials have claimed that grade inflation is due, in large measure, to the exceptional work done by students in Cambridge. Students must achieve a minimum threshold grade point average in order to receive distinction at graduation, and not surprisingly, 91 percent of Cantabs reportedly receive some sort of honor.
At Dartmouth College, administrators have viewed the issue of grade inflation with more concern, changing transcripts to include both an official course grade and the average grade received by students in the course.
The missing variable in the discussion is not whether grade inflation exists at Yale — a simple chat with friends will confirm that it does — but rather to what degree it actually occurs. Under the University’s current policies for releasing academic statistics, it is impossible for undergraduates to obtain the data necessary to answer that question.
While GPAs do not appear on student transcripts, University officials must still make quantitative comparisons between students to determine recipients of honors at graduation. And because Yale fixes the percentages of the student body that receive different distinctions at graduation — 5 percent receive summa cum laude honors each year, for instance — knowing the average GPA for each level of distinction would serve as a barometer for how much grades were inflated.
The University should take measures, perhaps resembling something like the policies enacted at Dartmouth, to make information about grades more transparent and widely available to students and faculty. Only then will students and faculty be armed with the information necessary to carry on a constructive discussion about the status of grade inflation at Yale.