“Monopoly-Money Grades”

How universities have devalued their currency.

I had always thought that this kind of grade inflation started in the sixties, when many professors didn’t want to cost students their draft deferments by flunking them out, but a lot more has been driving it in recent decades. Time to rein it in.

[Update a few minutes later]

It’s not just grade inflation — it’s also degree inflation:

Of all the metropolitan areas in the United States, Atlanta has had one of the largest inflows of college graduates in the last five years, according to an analysis of census data by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. In 2012, 39 percent of job postings for secretaries and administrative assistants in the Atlanta metro area requested a bachelor’s degree, up from 28 percent in 2007, according to Burning Glass.

“When I started recruiting in ’06, you didn’t need a college degree, but there weren’t that many candidates,” Ms. Manzagol said.

Even if they are not exactly applying the knowledge they gained in their political science, finance and fashion marketing classes, the young graduates employed by Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh say they are grateful for even the rotest of rote office work they have been given.

“It sure beats washing cars,” said Landon Crider, 24, the firm’s soft-spoken runner.

He would know: he spent several years, while at Georgia State and in the months after graduation, scrubbing sedans at Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Before joining the law firm, he was turned down for a promotion to rental agent at Enterprise — a position that also required a bachelor’s degree — because the company said he didn’t have enough sales experience.

His college-educated colleagues had similarly limited opportunities, working at Ruby Tuesday or behind a retail counter while waiting for a better job to open up.

“I am over $100,000 in student loan debt right now,” said Megan Parker, who earns $37,000 as the firm’s receptionist. She graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 2011 with a degree in fashion and retail management, and spent months waiting on “bridezillas” at a couture boutique, among other stores, while churning out office-job applications.

“I will probably never see the end of that bill, but I’m not really thinking about it right now,” she said. “You know, this is a really great place to work.”

A lot of young people have sure gotten a lot of terrible advice over the past couple decades. Any other industry that committed this kind of massive, multi-billion-dollar fraud would rightly have its leaders in jail.

14 thoughts on ““Monopoly-Money Grades””

  1. Absolutely. Starting with the ridiculous notion that ‘Everyone’ should go to college. There are many people who would be better served by going to community college, state run universities, or trade schools all together. Combine this with way too many humanity degrees and we get a labor force that is completely non-qualified to perform most decent paying jobs.

  2. I’m having difficulty feeling sorry for Ms. Parker. As much as I want to comment on an Art Institute degree being a $100K; my pity goes out the window with the paraphrase of bridezillas at a boutique. When your degree is Fashion and Retail Management; why did you expect a job in a law firm? Sure she spent time at a boutique, that seemed by her education to be the job she was interested in.

  3. The Education Tree is rotten from the roots. Until local communities take over local schools, the fount of “Mommy know best” government will flourish.

  4. Actually a faster way to eliminate grade inflation is to ban student evaluations of faculty which started as a practice in the 1950s and 1960s when by odd coincidence, grade inflation took off. Also disconnecting the “publish or perish” requirement for faculty promotion would be another step which would actually solve the problem.

    Here is a good study to read in place the opinions that usually litter this area, a study with (gasp!) equations and data in it.


    Yes, it would be nice to go back to the days of Professor Kingsfield, but if an instructor did this today he would probably be sued by today’s whimpering students and fired by administration for “emotional abuse”, not to mention the blogsphere reaction… 🙂


    1. While I don’t disagree that student evaluations have been positively poisonous, they aren’t the real problem.

      University administrators are playing an obsessive numbers game…the mosre FTEs you have, the better you are, and NOTHING else matters. Instructors who flunk too many students (or don’t give out enough good grades) ‘harm’ the university’s greater mission….generating more FTEs. Those instructors who don’t get the message will have searching conversations with their department chairs, followed by any number of unpleasant consequences if they don’t get the message. Unless you are tenured and a superstar researcher (in which case, you aren’t exposed to anything other than the most rarified grad students who don’t worry about such things), everyone is vulnerable to pressure at some point…

      1. f1bonacc1

        Yes, that is also a factor, the number of students in programs and in classes equal FTE which equal numbers. And now that states are proposing to only pay for those students that complete the class it will make grade inflation even worse.

        When I went to NM Tech in the 1970’s it was expected that half or more of the students in freshman Chemisty, Geology, Physics or Biology would be forced to drop out during the fall, and another half in the Spring when the survivors took Chemisty II, Geology II, Physics II or Biology II. And the instructors told students that would be their goal on the very first day of class – “so you better study if you wanted to among those finishing the sequence”.

        One math instructor would brag proudly to his freshmen classes how he gave “F”s to 23 out of 26 students once in his first semester Calculus section. And noted that those students earned every F he awarded.

        Nowadays administrators would be horrified at such an attitudes by faculty.

    2. Maybe separating the credential from the class would help. Students study under whatever professor they wish for as long as they want, then take the test to see if they passed the course.

      1. Daver,

        That is exactly the great promise of MOOCs, and hopefully they will develop in that direction.

        1. Yes. It would be kind of amusing if they ended up actually improving the bricks&mortar universities as well.

          1. My daughter will likely be going to college in a couple of years. I expect colleges to go much further left once the online courses start really taking off; I hope she’s well away before the violence gets too out of hand.

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