Grade Inflation Continues at Varying Pace in Colleges, Says Researcher

March 12, 2009

Is “A” really for average?

At some highly selective private colleges, perhaps it is, according to a new analysis of grade-point averages released this week by Stuart Rojstaczer, a retired professor known for his study of grade inflation.

On his Web site,, Mr. Rojstaczer indicates that the phenomenon persists at private and public colleges, and that institutions with the highest average grades tend to have the most grade inflation.

His last major assessment of grades was in 2003, when he was a professor of environmental science at Duke University. Since then, he says, he has expanded his data, which indicate that average grades at private colleges rose from 3.09 in 1991 to 3.30 in 2006. At public colleges, grades rose, on average, from 2.85 to 3.01.

Mr. Rojstaczer points out that, as of 2006, some highly selective private colleges — he doesn’t name them — had already reached 3.5 as their average GPA, and others were close behind.

In the update of his Web site, Mr. Rojstaczer notes that grade inflation, or the appearance of it, is not ubiquitous. Community colleges and nonselective public colleges seem to have minimal inflation, or an utter lack of it. He concedes that community colleges are not the focus of his study, however, and he has limited data on them.

Grade inflation has long been a contentious issue, and some scholars doubt its existence altogether, saying that students are simply coming to college better prepared.

For instance, Maureen A. McCarthy, a professor of psychology at Kennesaw State University, told The Chronicle last year that, in the previous two decades, scores on “objective” forms of assessment, like the SAT and IQ tests, had also gone up.

In response to those claims, Mr. Rojstaczer posits, “Such quantitative efforts are of dubious worth because even the organization that administers the SAT test, the College Board, is unable to show that SAT scores are a good predictor of college GPA.”

Mr. Rojstaczer has traced the beginnings of grade inflation to the 1960s. He has suggested that it waned in the 1970s, resurfaced in the 1980s, and continues today. —Steven Bushong