Stuart Rojstaczer is not exactly a household name, but he has caused quite a frenzy. A retired professor from Duke University, he has titled himself as “America’s grade inflation czar.”
Rojstaczer left his teaching position at Duke to pursue researching grade inflation, and his findings have since caused quite a stir. From his research came a list of the 16 universities in Canada and the United States where it is most difficult to receive an A letter grade. Included on this list are MIT, Princeton, and Purdue; Simon Fraser University ranks 16th and is also the only Canadian university to be found on the list.
In a video interview with The Voice, Rojstaczer provided a short summary of his paper, “Where A is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading, 1940–2009.” He described how universities have always had unregulated grading systems, which leads to a lack of uniformity. According to Rojstaczer, grades were reasonably consistent until the 1960s when professors in the US began to give higher grades to male students so they could avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. In the 1980s, he said the “culture of colleges changed”: grades steadily increased, and haven’t stopped since.
There’s not only a lack of uniformity in how grades are achieved, but there’s also a noted discrepancy between grading systems. At SFU, an 80 percent in the history department would be in the A- range on a transcript. That same percentage would fall in the B or B+ range in other departments. At the University of British Columbia, an 80 percent is in the A- range no matter what faculty you’re in.
A UBC student might have a better chance of being accepted to grad school.
Furthermore, when one delves deeper into the issue of GPAs, there is very little similarity between SFU and other schools. Schools like SFU have a GPA scale of 4.33, but the University of Toronto, for example, uses the much more common 4.0 GPA scale.
So why does any of this matter?
This might all just seem like a solid excuse when you’re explaining to your parents why you failed a 101 course — but it could cause long-term damages. A UBC student and an SFU student with the same percentage average have wildly different GPAs, which can have devastating impacts on merit-based scholarship and grant applications. When applying for grad school, said UBC student could have a better chance of being accepted if the grad school in question isn’t fully cognizant of the different grading scales.
The better alternative would be to adopt a universal grading scale. Since it’s nearly impossible to successfully guarantee that all schools will grade fairly and with the same level of leniency (although some high school programs such as International Baccalaureate have given us a pretty great example of how it could and should be done), universities will gain reputations as either easy or hard grading schools.
Our methods of measuring student success are long-outdated, and indeed our teaching strategies in general need some revamping; a good place to start would be for universities to adopt similar grading schemes. Then we can delve into the issue of overly lenient professors and flawed college cultures.