Grade Deflation in Respect to Menand’s Theories

As I logged onto my Yahoo email account a few days ago, I noticed the website’s front page was headlining an article about Princeton University’s decision to terminate their practice of grade deflation. Having read Louis Menand’s article, “Live and Learn,” I associated this action as a possible attempt to move away from Theory One and the practice of stressing excellent grades as the sole determination of a college graduate’s success. Now that this decision has removed additional stress off of the students’ backs, will we see an increase in the well roundedness of a student in the liberal arts curriculum?

Princeton may be starting a trend by eliminating their grade deflation system

Limiting only 35 percent of course work to receiving a straight A grade hints that if you are not in the top 35 percent of your class, you probably aren’t going to receive that A. This is where the proponents of Theory One come into play. Since they measure success by how well your grades are, you, in their opinion, are now in jeopardy of moving into a dream job that reflects your interests. Pretty pessimistic, right? The committee in charge of the grade deflation system cited that it brought the students stress that they otherwise would not have had. Any free time was spent competing against classmates for the perfect grade because Theory One took hold of this situation and was blown way out of proportion. Instead, the students could have spent their time becoming involved in the community and living the college experience. That is not to say grades are important. They most certainly are. However, many employers and post-undergraduate schools like to see a balance of school and extracurricular activities. By moving away from this system, hopefully students will begin to start collaborating with each other to help themselves both become better students rather than feeling the need to always outscore each other .

With the grade deflation system no longer a part of the curriculum, will students begin to follow a path more similar to Theory 2? This theory views college as a time to learn skills and knowledge for the future, not just as a way to reward the students with the highest grades. While this system of grade deflation was intact, students were probably fearful of enrolling in a class that rests outside their comfort zone because they would be competing for an A with others who may want to study the subject as a major or minor. Now, maybe students will feel encouraged to branch out and try something they otherwise wouldn’t have. I’m not saying that they won’t have to work hard. That is expected in every class. But now, they are starting off with the possibility of earning an A, no matter how classmates match up. As a result, will we as a society shift towards an educational system that values knowledge and well roundedness more so than when predetermined grades gave students anxiety about college and which classes to take? If this new decision is carried out efficiently, it is bound to encourage innovation and introduce a whole new purpose of college that takes a break from prioritizing Theory One and the grade book.

Only time will tell if Princeton’s elimination of the grade deflation system will start a trend that other schools will follow. If it results in students graduating happier, with a more diversified class schedule and resume, maybe this is something that colleges across the nation should try. No matter the results, taking this leap of faith and venturing away from components of Theory One is challenging higher education institutions to reevaluate priorities and think about where we are heading.


One comment

  1. alexdt2014 · October 12, 2014

    I agree that you may see a shift from Theory 1 to Theory 2, but I think it would be a small one. There is definitely less stress on the students’ shoulders now that there is no more grade deflation, but they still will work just as hard to earn A’s because that is what employers want to see. The desire to earn good grades has not gone away.


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