What's Happening to the Average GPA?

Are college students getting smarter?

If you looked at the grades they are “earning,” you might assume the answer is yes.  The average GPA in college is 3.1. At private schools, the norm is a 3.3 GPA. In contrast, the typical college student had an average GPA of 2.52 in the 1950s.

In nearly every decade, the GPA has inched up. Clearly grade inflation is at play, suggests Stuart Rojstaczer, a retired Duke University professor, who is the guru of grade inflation research. You can see tons of his grade inflation evidence at his website – GradeInflation.com.

Among different institutions, students who attend public commuter schools and engineering schools get graded most harshly.

Here are 3 reasons for college grade inflation:

1. Professors don’t want to jeopardize students’ chances for graduate school and jobs after those fun college years are over.

2. Professors can be cowed by the teacher evaluation forms that students complete. No teacher wants a terrible rating on RateMyProfessors.com.

3. At expensive private schools, students and their parents expect high grades to match these institutions’ high price tags.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

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11 Responses to What's Happening to the Average GPA?

  1. hutzy May 1, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    Well, the average college student these days is much “smarter” than a college student from the 1950s. If grade inflation is defined as increasing the grade for a standardized level of accomplishment, then that is not what is going on here. Students are smarter than ever before because all fields have developed an additional 60 years.
    There is a discrepancy between what a GPA is- a tool to distinguish individuals or a measure of accomplishment. The increase in GPA is due to the having more accomplished students. If it was there to distinguish individuals, yes, of course it would remain the same. But that’s not what is going on here. Compare the 1950s and current day knowledge of virtually any field and you will see that it is more diverse and more accurate. This causes GPAs to rise.
    Comparing different schools, majors, professors, and classes are NOT reasons for grade inflation. You cannot look at this on an individual level either Jake and Mary.

  2. Jake August 30, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    I wonder if the people getting 3.5+ GPA’s are smarter than me or the colleges they go to are ridiculously forgiving. I’m certainly no genius but I’m pretty smart and I work damn hard most of the time. I can think of one class where the prof gave me a better grade than I deserved for my understanding of the material, but I studied so hard and he was such a shit teacher I felt like I deserved it anyway. All other classes my grades where definitely accurate and not inflated. No other professors gave me any leniency whatsoever. I earned my below average 3.0 and I don’t feel like a failure at all, but did others earn their 3.5’s? (or whatever) :-/

  3. mike August 22, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    Definitely grade inflation, all those reasons are true. I know students who have talked professors into bumping up their grade so they can get there scholarship or grad school.
    In my experience college kids don’t care as much as they should, we had ‘freshmen forgiveness’ because the kids would party instead of study, so they could retake a class for the new grade. Professors also curve to around a B now, so average is a B.
    I could have finished with a 3.8 but finished with a 3.5 due to some problems I was having and I didn’t care about class anymore, still got decent grades tho for barely any work.

  4. joe joe the monkey man May 5, 2012 at 1:27 am #

    HAHAHAHAHA i work my ass off yu know! it isnt the colleges that is so dumb of you to say ha.
    try hard work ethic and maybe youll get somehere

  5. Mary March 24, 2012 at 12:44 am #

    Being a later in life college student (I’m 33) and having a very strong work ethic, I’d have to say that grade inflation is definitely at play. I am a full time student and part time bookkeeper as well as a single parent with sole custody of my child. My GPA is a 3.73 and I am surprised how much I have screwed up to get that GPA. I’m not sure if it’s because my teachers like me, or if school is just fairly easy for me. Either way, it sure seems that it is harder for me to get sub par grades than good grades.

  6. Derick February 10, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    Better access to resources probably plays a role in this. A poor kid can have access to the same info as a rich kid via the internet these days. I am not saying Grade inflation is a myth, but I am basing my comment on the reasons provided.

  7. Lizzie December 19, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    Are there actually statistics for those 3 reasons, or are they just speculations?

  8. College Experience August 25, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

    Valid points, but is there anything to be said for: 1. An increase in available resources available to the students (e.g. technology, internet, etc.), 2. Higher work ethic, perhaps due to the fact that college degrees are necessary for most corporate jobs?

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