Walter E. Williams

College education is a costly proposition with tuition, room and board at some colleges topping $50,000 a year. Is it worth it? Increasing evidence suggests that it's not. Since the 1960s, academic achievement scores have plummeted, but student college grade point averages (GPA) have skyrocketed. In October 2001, the Boston Globe published an article entitled "Harvard's Quiet Secret: Rampant Grade Inflation." The article reported that a record 91 percent of Harvard University students were awarded honors during the spring graduation. The newspaper called Harvard's grading practices "the laughing stock of the Ivy League." Harvard is by no means unique. For example, 80 percent of the grades given at the University of Illinois are A's and B's. Fifty percent of students at Columbia University are on the Dean's list. At Stanford University, where F grades used to be banned, only 6 percent of student grades were as low as a C. In the 1930s, the average GPA at American colleges and universities was 2.35, about a C plus; today the national average GPA is 3.2, more than a B.

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Today's college students are generally dumber than their predecessors. An article in the Wall Street Journal (1/30/97) reported that a "bachelor of Arts degree in 1997 may not be the equal of a graduation certificate from an academic high school in 1947." The American Council on Education found that only 15 percent of universities require tests for general knowledge; only 17 percent for critical thinking; and only 19 percent for minimum competency. According a recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the percentage of college graduates proficient in prose literacy has declined from 40 percent to 31 percent within the past decade. Employers report that many college graduates lack the basic skills of critical thinking, writing and problem-solving and some employers find they must hire English and math teachers to teach them how to write memos and perform simple computations.

What is being labeled grade inflation is simply a euphemism for academic dishonesty. After all, it's dishonesty when a professor assigns a grade the student did not earn. When a university or college confers a degree upon a student who has not mastered critical thinking skills, writing and problem-solving, it's academic dishonesty. Of course, I might be in error calling it dishonesty. Perhaps academic standards have been set so low that idiots could earn A's and B's.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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