Grades at Yale since George W. Bush’s time

George W. Bush graduated from Yale in 1968 with a C+ average (source: CBS News). How might he have done today?

The July/August 2013 Yale Alumni Magazine points out that “Sixty-two percent of all grades awarded by Yale College in the spring of 2012 were As or A-minuses. Comparing that with 50 years ago, when only ten percent were in the A range, some faculty believe Yale has a grade-inflation problem.”

Perhaps Yale students today are simply better prepared due to the increased competitiveness of getting into an elite school (larger and more mobile world population; women now eligible for admission; roughly same number of slots).  Or maybe Yale students spend more time studying than did their counterparts in the 1960s, contrary to the conclusions reached by Babcock and Marks in http://www.nber.org/papers/w15954.pdf (“Using multiple datasets from different time periods, we document declines in academic time investment by full-time college students in the United States between 1961 and 2003. Full-time students allocated 40 hours per week toward class and studying in 1961, whereas by 2003 they were investing about 27 hours per week. Declines were extremely broad-based, and are not easily accounted for by framing effects, work or major choices, or compositional changes in students or schools. We conclude that there have been substantial changes over time in the quantity or manner of human capital production on college campuses.”)

6 Comments

  1. Duke Briscoe

    July 31, 2013 @ 1:28 am

    1

    George W. Bush’s major shortcomings in my opinion were wisdom and curiosity. Wisdom correlating with the accuracy of predictions of future facts. Curiosity being the interest in factual occurrences. I was a grad student teacher of computer science at Yale around 1990 and as a wild guess I might have expected an undergrad such as George W. Bush to have achieved a B- in the introductory CS classes, based on my memory of the grading curve. So I can believe there has been some grade inflation. I have much more appreciation for the wisdom and curiosity of the earlier President George H.W. Bush, who was at Yale in Skull & Bones with the half-brother of my closest friend. I have not seen any reports of the academic record of George H.W. Bush.

  2. Federico

    July 31, 2013 @ 7:18 am

    2

    Or maybe the junior, not tenured faculty in charge to actually look after the little darlings is under great pressure to pass them and award overgenerous grades because if they do not they would (1) upset the over inflated sense of entitlement of the little darlings, who would make a fuss, thus (2) causing tenured faculty to actually have to do some work, which in turn (3) will see (morally unjustifiable) retribution go the way of the untenured faculty. Award high grades and everybody wins!

    I know what explanation I put my bet on!

  3. Jagadeesh Venugopal

    July 31, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    3

    I don’t think this is a problem unique to Yale alone. If I look at my local newspaper, pretty much everyone in middle and high schools either gets honors or high honors. When I did my MBA (at a much smaller and lesser known school in RI), B+ and A- grades were handed out like candy. I was reminded of a cartoon contrasting the ’50s and the ’00s. In the former, parents, looking at a poor grade report are screaming at the kid, demanding an explanation. In the later, the same, except they’re screaming at the teacher.

    One way to combat this issue is that the person teaching should not be the person testing. Another option is to grade on a curve.

  4. davep

    July 31, 2013 @ 10:55 am

    4

    agadeesh Venugopal: “When I did my MBA (at a much smaller and lesser known school in RI), B+ and A- grades were handed out like candy.”

    Many of your fellow MBA students were probably having the fees paid for by their employers (who often have grade requirements for payments). It’s quite likely that many of those students would not have in the program if they had to pay for it themselves.

  5. Josh

    July 31, 2013 @ 7:26 pm

    5

    In my high school back in the early 00s, we started getting AP classes. Up until that point they were labelled “College” and “Honor” courses. When we instituted AP classes, the College classes mysteriously disappeared and Honor and AP were the only classes left. With the exception of a real AP English course (College stuck around for English) and a brand new Organic Chemistry class, there were no major differences in classes.

    On the non-cynical side, some things that exist now that didn’t in 1961:
    Computers (don’t have to type out your paper again cause you fudged up/you don’t have to punch holes in a card and walk them to a human compiler and hope your program works)
    The Internet (don’t have to go to the Library and hope your research skills are up to snuff to even locate the book you need, let alone use it wisely)
    Calculators (slide rules are a bitch)

    Half of my friends are teachers, and honestly I blame grade inflation and treating kids like two year olds on parents and administration, since my friends wouldn’t mind busting some skulls without fear of getting fired. School board members want to get re-elected and you can’t do that if Johnny fails his senior year and can’t join his Uncle’s law firm.

  6. michiel

    August 1, 2013 @ 1:08 am

    6

    I once talked to an American Graduate student from CMU who expressed the sentiment that “If you don’t get straight As in Grad school, you’d better reconsider why you’re there.”

    Even though I’ve never managed to reach Grad school, the sentiment seemed silly to me. If entire classes get A grades year after year, that means the exam is too easy. For a moment, it made Grad school in the US seem a lot less challenging than it probably is.

    In my country, it is common (and relatively stigma-free) to ‘retake’ an exam if you don’t get a passing grade the first time. Local politicians like to point at this practice as evidence for our lax academic standards. After all, they say, pointing at the ever-present example of the US, retaking an exam is unheard of in academia there, and obviously this causes students to work so hard they get straight As …

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