Walter Williams: Grade Inflation “Discounting Worth of a Degree”

Walter Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, argues in a controversial State Journal-Register piece this week that grade inflation has eroded the value of an undergraduate degree—to the point “that idiots could earn A’s and B’s” at highly prestigious schools (Harvard is one target):

Since the 1960s, academic achievement scores have plummeted, but student college grade point averages (GPA) have skyrocketed. . . . Today’s college students are generally dumber than their predecessors. An article in the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 30, 1997) reported that a “bachelor of Arts degree in 1997 may not be the equal of a graduation certificate from an academic high school in 1947.” The American Council on Education found that only 15 percent of universities require tests for general knowledge; only 17 percent for critical thinking; and only 19 percent for minimum competency.

Williams describes rampant grade inflation as “simply a euphemism for academic dishonesty. After all, it’s dishonesty when a professor assigns a grade the student did not earn.”

Some of the conclusions are admittedly inflammatory, but his arguments are compelling. Still, of the top schools cited in the article, liberal arts colleges are conspicuously absent. Does Williams have a point? Are academic standards at Wesleyan (and so-called peer institutions) an exception to the rule? Discuss in the comments.

18 thoughts on “Walter Williams: Grade Inflation “Discounting Worth of a Degree”

  1. Anon

    The average GPA in the sciences at Wes is a 3.2. That average does not indicate inflation.

    However, the average in both non-science divisions is a 3.7. That indicates inflation.

  2. Anon

    The average GPA in the sciences at Wes is a 3.2. That average does not indicate inflation.

    However, the average in both non-science divisions is a 3.7. That indicates inflation.

  3. anon

    The sciences at Wesleyan have extremely inflated grades. My entire semester consists of making sure that I get A+’s instead of A’s, because those are the only two possibilities for even remotely serious students.

  4. anon

    The sciences at Wesleyan have extremely inflated grades. My entire semester consists of making sure that I get A+’s instead of A’s, because those are the only two possibilities for even remotely serious students.

  5. ann

    That quote is so moronic:

    a “bachelor of Arts degree in 1997 may not be the equal of a graduation certificate from an academic high school in 1947.”

    You mean different degrees earned from different institutions and separated by half a century might not be ‘equal’, whatever that means??

  6. ann

    That quote is so moronic:

    a “bachelor of Arts degree in 1997 may not be the equal of a graduation certificate from an academic high school in 1947.”

    You mean different degrees earned from different institutions and separated by half a century might not be ‘equal’, whatever that means??

  7. Max

    I think grade inflation probably exists at most, if not all private institutions. Yes, this includes Wesleyan. However, I’m not sure that it’s as systematic here at Wes than at other places.

  8. Max

    I think grade inflation probably exists at most, if not all private institutions. Yes, this includes Wesleyan. However, I’m not sure that it’s as systematic here at Wes than at other places.

  9. lame

    yea this guy also probably forgets how much more work students do today in college- without computers- it took way more time to write papers (due to research and having to type and retype drafts)- much more of their work was busy work rather than intellectual- furthermore this doesn’t take into account the insanity of the college admissions process- someone who was admitted into harvard in the 80s probably wouldn’t get in today- i think when articles like this are written it is just the older generation trying to make itself sound superior

  10. lame

    yea this guy also probably forgets how much more work students do today in college- without computers- it took way more time to write papers (due to research and having to type and retype drafts)- much more of their work was busy work rather than intellectual- furthermore this doesn’t take into account the insanity of the college admissions process- someone who was admitted into harvard in the 80s probably wouldn’t get in today- i think when articles like this are written it is just the older generation trying to make itself sound superior

  11. stdnt

    i like to think that i truly earn all my grades to maintain my stellar GPA — it’s a mix of my work ethic, engagement, participation, and how attractive and personable i am.

  12. stdnt

    i like to think that i truly earn all my grades to maintain my stellar GPA — it’s a mix of my work ethic, engagement, participation, and how attractive and personable i am.

  13. anon

    “Are academic standards at Wesleyan (and so-called peer institutions) an exception to the rule?”

    Are you kidding me?

  14. anon

    “Are academic standards at Wesleyan (and so-called peer institutions) an exception to the rule?”

    Are you kidding me?

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