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.

Let's Connect

Leave a Reply

  1. I deserved all my A’s, but my lady teachers awarded B’s when they stated 89.xx’s would be bumped up if attendance was perfect and participation was high (twice this happened). One class (third lady teacher) in particular I received all test grades 95 and up and got a B. I clearly would have earned a D in a core math probably because my teacher quit mid semester and the new professor assigned to our class was not proficient in bridging that gap i.e. tested for things not covered due to teach#1 skipping around in the book… my only C. My experience tells me A earners earned it and C earners are given a little bump for $ reasons. One professor even said flunking everybody won’t earn his paychecks when confronted by a former student who put him on the spot about dumbing down the curriculum. I am a 42 year old mother of 4, sole provider and custodian to my young elementary age kids. I attend full time, graduating with honors this semester. My advise is take no classes from women or gays and don’t tell anyone if you are republican also look rich if you can pretending to be gay might help too. These things actually matter in smaller schools. Honestly I cannot believe degrees are going to these idiots (whom I tutor) in my classes (and they get grades like mine?). Two year universities are exactly like high school popularity contests. I’ve heard students approach professors asking for a better grades and he/she assigns only that student extra credit work (the audacity!).

    Back to the question of “What is happening to GPA’s?”

    The answer is: GPA’s are becoming less reliable determinants of proficiency.

  2. I am attending college right now. I have not had a single teacher give me a break or inflate my grade. In ever class I have gotten the grade I earned…

  3. 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.

  4. 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) :-/

    1. I do not believe that a person with a college GPA that is above 3.5 is smarter than someone whose GPA is below 3.5. However, the person with a higher GPA may have just discovered their own way of studying that works for them. One person may be able to retain information by just reading the text once over, but other people may have to basically rewrite the entire textbook by hand to remember the information. Then again, maybe a person is adept at academic writing.

      It may not be that they are smarter, but something clicked in their head that has made them more apt in their academic retention.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

    1. I was thinking the same thing. The school I went to provided online tutoring assistance 24/7 from some country they contracted with; they had in-person tutoring for free, the Internet is a massive resource… Wolfram Alpha Pro for Math is amazingly helpful, YouTube, hundreds of books on Google library to search through to quote from for papers… the fact is for a student who actually cares, its easier now to achieve a better grade, not because of grade inflation but because of available study resources. Students from the 1950s were limited when all they had was a book and a (often) lousy professor.

      Anyone who has a Mathematics, Computer Science, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Nursing/Medical or similar degree will naturally be skeptical of the claims in this article.