Psychologists and teachers are warning that grade inflation may lead to worthless degrees and cognitive biases, leaving students thinking they are smarter than they actually are. In recent years, the number of students awarded “first” or “high honors” degrees has soared and most universities have an unexplainable jump in honors degrees awarded. This problem is most critical in the United Kingdom, where the number of students obtaining a first class degree at Imperial College London rose from 31% to 46%, at University College London from 24% to 40% and at Durham University from 18% to 38% in the past 8 years.
So why are colleges inflating grades? Well, now more than ever, students applying to college are looking to be awarded honors degrees. This incentive brings applicants rushing in, racking up thousands in application fees. More importantly, this incentive allowed colleges to pick the same number of attendees from a larger pool of applicants, declining the acceptance rate. Colleges with lower acceptance rates are deemed better and more desirable by the general public.
Everyone is starting to graduate with higher grade point averages and better degrees… is this really a problem? The answer is yes. Economists and psychologists agree that grade inflation is detrimental. Economists claim that grade inflation devalues certain universities in the eyes of employers, and the possibility of a shrinking workforce may be eminent. If this pattern of inflation continues, degrees may become useless to students and employers. Psychologists claim that students have created illusory superiority and are psychologically injured when that superiority is shattered in the workforce and beyond.
To avoid the drawbacks of grade inflation, the United Kingdom has begun to eradicate the problem. The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) has been ranking universities across the UK as gold, silver, or bronze since 2017. Beginning in 2020, the TEF will add grade inflation to their current list of factors they consider when ranking a school. This list currently includes: campus life, teaching quality, course difficulty, and will be adding student feedback, drop-out rates, graduation outcomes, and grade inflation. In addition to the TEF’s effort to curb inflation, Columbia, Dartmouth, Indiana, and Eastern Kentucky University are adding details onto transcripts, including the number of students in each class as well as the average grade of the class (“contextualization”).
Inflating grades provides universities with immediate benefits, but what is tucked away are the detrimental effects in the long term. It’s time to avoid worthless degrees and widespread depression before they destroy cognition and the workforce as we know it.