January 18, 2005

An A by any other name

First there was the watered down Core, then increased class-sizes, then the colorful Max Palevsky. And now, Chicago, once touted for its relative grade stability, has succumbed to a trend that affects most other peer institutions: The average GPA of our collegiate students has increased steadily over the past 30 years.

While the rise in the average GPA can be attributed to many factors that occur over time, the critical matter at stake for us is the caliber of the U of C education, and our reputation for academic rigor. We should pause to consider where we stand today among American universities and evaluate the path our future should take. Should we continue to follow the national trend of grade inflation, so that our numbers are more equivalent to students at comparable institutions? Or do we prefer to work to remain a stubborn bastion of meager grades, where instructors adhere to a strict grading criteria in spite of the higher grades awarded by competitive universities? Is there a feasible middle ground? Does an unearned A feel as sweet as a deserved one?

There can be an advantage to having lower average grades relative to other universities. It depends heavily on graduate programs and employers recognizing Chicago for its higher standard of academic rigor and adjusting accordingly, but it hasn't failed yet. Above all, at least within its own quads, Chicago is known for the high quality of education that its graduates carry out to their careers and to other institutions. If we continue to succumb to this national trend, will the quality of our education, and with it the spirit of this University, somehow be lost?

This is an increasingly important issue on American campuses and the U of C can't afford not to worry about it until we've caught up with our ‘peers.' It is too late to avoid this trend completely, but the University needs to do whatever it can to preserve the reputation of our degrees.