Princeton sparks grade inflation debate

By Katherine Brachelli
October 21, 2005

Jerry Zurek

In many schools, endless bribes and rewards are thrown at students to force them to achieve that desired “A” throughout their education. However, students at Princeton University are receiving fewer “A’s” and they are calling it progress.

The faculty at Princeton, one of America’s top Ivy League universities, is trying to reduce grade inflation. Other colleges around the nation are watching carefully. Cabrini student reviews about the policy have been skeptical.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, in humanities courses at Princeton, more than half the grades were A’s. The goal was to reduce the portion of A’s to around 35 percent. In the effort’s first year, the percentage of A’s dropped in nearly all of the broad academic divisions that Princeton listed in a news release. However, the undergraduate academic dean, Nancy W. Malkiel, said, none of the academic divisions reached the 35-percent target.

After taking an informal poll on Cabrini’s campus, it has been found that the majority of Cabrini students do not agree with Princeton University’s plan on slimming down on the number of A’s in their first year campaign against grade inflation.

Nina Scimenes, a senior English communication major, said, “Knowing that there is a percentage of A’s given out I would feel discouraged. It’s almost as if you are being graded on a curve and at a disadvantage.”

Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Charles McCormick, said, “I think Princeton only has good intentions with this new policy. It’s my guess that it may impact the students psychologically.”

An issue that McCormick addressed was, “Would it really make a difference if the students of an Ivy League institution receive an “A” or a “B”?

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Dean Malkiel said, “Before starting the new policy, she spoke to employers and admissions officers at graduate and professional schools to see if lower grades would hurt Princeton students after they graduated. Both employers and admissions officers, she said, have told her that Princeton graduates would be evaluated in the context of the university’s campaign against grade inflation.”

Princeton University is not the only place trimming down on the number of “A’s.” Point Park University, in Pittsburgh, has joined in on the action too. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, professors at Point Park University are losing money for giving out high grades. “Six professors at Point Park University, even though they were among the one-third of the faculty members to earn $2,000 merit awards in 2003, they were given just $1,000 because administrators said the professors had handed out too many A’s in the previous semester. College officials say the move is part of an effort to curb grade inflation at the private university.”

In addition, the New York Times reported that Dean Malkiel had explained that, reducing the number of A’s was important to give students a more accurate picture of how they were doing and to inspire them to work harder. “If we’re giving them the same grades for their very best work as for their good work, we’re not giving them well-calibrated guidance about the difference between very good and best, and we’re not challenging them to do their very best work.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education stated that Diana Fuss, acting chair of the Princeton English department, believes that professors have become more judicious with “A’s” because of the policy. “The mercy A- has disappeared, Fuss said.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education also reported that, Dean Malkiel hopes the percentage of A’s will drop again this year, as departments share with one another the approaches that work best to combat grade inflation. “We’re in the mode of helping departments make further progress. I think we’ve made very impressive progress in a short space of time,” Malkiel said.

Amanda Strittmatter, a Cabrini freshman, begs to differ with Dean Malkiel’s point of view, regarding their academic system. “It is almost as if they are depriving a certain percentage of the students of the grade they deserve. Students should be given the grade they deserved,” Strittmatter said.

Loquitur welcomes your comments on this story. Please send your comments to: The editors will review your points each week and make corrections if warrented.

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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Katherine Brachelli

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