Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

For Whitman students, B+ just average for second year

The average grade point average for Whitman students remained a 3.414, or B+, for the second year in a row in 2007, reports said.

“The mean grade was supposed to be a C,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology Nick Bader. “[Grade inflation] weakens the A.” Approximately 57.9 percent of grades given in fall of 2007 were As.

The figures represents a change from 10 years ago, when the average GPA was 3.168, though for the last five years change has been minimal. As to the reason for this, thoughts were mixed.

“I think it’s because of increased admission standards,” said sophomore Rebecca Levy. While the average GPA for entering students has changed only minimally in the last 10 years, and was in fact a 3.77 in 2007 compared to a 3.8 in 1997, entering students have slightly higher SAT scores.

Others attribute the figures to a national phenomenon of grade inflation.

“I feel like it’s probably the professors,” said senior Suzanne Zitzer. “I don’t like grade inflation; it makes it less meaningful.”

“It’s why the high school diploma used to be meaningful and now it’s not,” Bader said. “It’s why recommendation letters are becoming more important.”

“When I studied abroad in Germany, it was very difficult to get a one, the highest grade,” Zitzer said.

“People were satisfied with threes and fours. What is an A if everyone in the class is getting one?”

Nationally, fewer than 20 percent of all college students receive grades below a B-, according to a 2002 study by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Some schools have adopted a grade-deflation policy, such as that adopted by Princeton University that limits the amount of As to 35 percent across departments.

In 1969, only 7 percent of college students received grades of A- or higher, while 25 percent received Cs or lower. Over the next 25 years, the figures shifted, with 25 percent of students receiving an A- or higher and 9 percent Cs or lower.

At Whitman, students can avoid the problem of grade inflation to an extent by opting to take some courses PDF, which allows students to be graded on a pass/fail system rather than a letter grade.
Both Levy and Zitzer have avoided the PDF option.

“I think it has a stigma,” Levy said. “It’s almost better to drop than to pass/fail.”

“I’m fine with people choosing this different system because it’s clearly different,” Bader said of the PDF option. “The problem with grade inflation is that the expectations have shifted.”
Bader has little hope for improvement. “It’s too bad, but it’s hard to get rid of this phenomenon now that we have it,” he said.

Others look towards a life beyond GPAs. “Hopefully students are working for general knowledge and to enrich their perspectives,” said junior Aisha Fukushima. “The end goal is beyond college.”

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  • J

    James G. JacksonFeb 14, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    As a Whitman alum (1973), I am appalled by this news. I had thought that perhaps Whitman would not be touched by the national grade-inflation trend.

    I was an average Whittie. I graduated 101st in a class of 202, with a 3.05 GPA (which put me right at class median). My freshman class was more like 390 people, so my straight B average put me squarely in the upper third of all of us (including those who dropped out, flunked out, or tranferred to a less-challenging school). I understand that nowadays most of any given freshman class is able to stay the course, rather than having the nearly 50% attrition rate that I knew.

    I can’t see why this is happening. Unlike the opposite problem (too many bad grades), it can’t be the fault of the students. My guess is that the professors are at fault. Either they are not challenging the students, or they are just giving grades away, rather than make students earn them. Mediocre work deserves a C, and I know I earned my share of Cs due to just that, mediocre work.

    The only solutions I have to offer are for profs to tighten up. Either grade on the curve (and don’t skew the curve!), or use an absolute scale and don’t make things too easy. If the teachers can’t be motivated to do this, then Administration needs to step in and set some standards.

    James G. Jackson
    Whitman ’73